Category Archives: Guest Posts

There’s No Finish Line by D.H. Aire

No Finish Line
Photo by Rob Wingate on Unsplash

Over Memorial Day Weekend I was on an online panel as part of Balticon, which was held virtually. The topic of the panel was “There’s No Finish Line.”

I keep thinking about that panel as I continue to feel like I’m living the topic.

You see, I began trying to get published in earnest about ten years ago. It’s not that I hadn’t tried before, but I gave up submitting to forego the pleasure of so many rejection letters.

However, as hurt as those letters left me feeling those many years before, I kept writing, but at that point I was just writing and rewriting for myself. Then, as can happen, well, life happened. I was told I had to grow up and stop this writing stuff. Other obligations in life were far more important—and stopping was killing me inside. Oh, I don’t disagree that priorities need balance, but “growing up” doesn’t mean you should give up doing what you love. No matter if you face rejection even from those closest to you.

I learned something from taking that and fantasy is part of who I am. I had stories I needed to write and share, and I found I couldn’t let that part of me not be expressed.

So, the moment came when my life dramatically changed and I knew it was time to dust off the stories I liked the most and I proofed, edited, wrote and rewrote again. Then, I guess, you could say “I rinsed and repeated.” I began submitting again and this time, well, some editors didn’t send me rejection letters. Oh, plenty of others still did, but, well, those rejections didn’t hurt like they had before. Actually, I think I just didn’t care about the rejections. I just kept writing and started going to science fiction and fantasy conventions, which offered workshops on writing. The editors started liking what they were seeing, I guess–especially the ones who offered me my first book contracts.

Subsequently, I came to the point where going Indy made more sense, which led to my selling enough books and making enough money at it that I qualified to join SFWA, the science fiction and fantasy writers association.

I love aspects of self-publishing, commissioning cover designs, formatting for print,. while other aspects like self-promoting, not so much… Now I’ve 19 books in print. Over the years, I’ve met people who wrote and published one short story or book and stopped. I don’t really understand that. Or, perhaps, I do. Writing’s a business and not exactly profitable—except, well, when it happens to be profitable. But profit’s not everything. There’s something about it that let’s my soul sort of fly on the winds and across the stars. Fine, as an author I’m delusional… but such delusions of life on Mars or among elves really aren’t so bad for a fantasy and sci fi writer..

All I know, is there’s really no finish line.

What gives me hope for a wider readership one day are people telling me how George R.R. Martin would attend some of the conventions I have, participating on panels, and would walk down the halls unrecognized for years and years until everything changed for him. Another author I’ve come to know, who shall remain nameless, sold his first book to a major press after twenty years of publishing short stories and novels and was introduced as a new author by that publisher. He chuckled, telling me how after twenty years he was an overnight success.

Funny thing about that phrase… I watched a biography on A&E about Jeff Dunham. He too became an overnight success after twenty years and shared he was rejected as not yet ready to be on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson eight times. The ninth time he made it and found himself headlining around the country from then on… but that was only a major step toward success for him. Because he was a ventriloquist, Comedy Central wouldn’t offer him a special. They didn’t understand his appeal or that a man with dummies could truly be funny… He decided to pay for producing a special himself (he said it cost him over $100,000) and his business manager had to beg to get Comedy Central to air it. The day after it aired they called and said something was wrong with the ratings. It turned out that his special had the highest ratings they’d ever had.

That didn’t just happen. He did everything he could, practicing his skills for years, writing jokes, being creative—including sculpting his own dummies. What really echoed in me was how he’d built his “overnight success.” Like authors need to, he built a mailing list. He collected the names and addresses of those who came to his shows and when he was returning their area. Today, it’s about building an email mailing list and twitter following, but then it was about sending out postcards when he was going to be performing within 50 miles of where his fans lived, encouraging them to buy tickets and bring their friends. That’s how he built his fan base, so when that Comedy Central special aired, they were watching… Jeff Dunham’s a story teller. I’m a story teller–I just throw the voices on the printed page and have a lot more work to do until I hit that twenty year benchmark hopefully can become an overnight success.

I have to keep telling myself, write, write, edit, rewrite, edit, proof, submit stories, self-publish as I choose, and most of all keep dreaming… telling myself the day will come.

So I promote my books as best I can—while the day job pays the bills, provides the medical insurance, and try to keep balance in my life as best I can.

So I speak on panels at conventions—even if must be virtually these days, do a talk on science fiction like one I recently did on Zoom, write, rewrite, edit, proof, and repeat. Oh, and the recipe includes promote, promote, seek out a new advance reader while I’m at it—and seek precious reviews. Oh, what the other authors on that panel at Balticon with me included from their own experience — work on more than one project at a time. One book may be with a publisher for months, while another is being written and others already published need to continue to be promoted.

There’s one other thing. The more I write the better I get at it. The characters and stories just keep whispering in my dreams, becoming more real as I write them. Truth be told, those pesky characters keep wanting me to share their tales and won’t let me stop.

Oh, along those lines, I’ve a number of book projects about ready for publication or just launched. I recently published Lessers Not Losers, a Young Adult novel with an unusual take on an origin story for would-be Superheroes, which I hope to become the first book in a trilogy or series.


D.H. Aire likes to blend genres, mixing his science fiction with a touch of fantasy, and especially blending his epic fantasy with a science fiction twist, which has found expression in his writing of his Highmage’s Plight Series and The Hands of the Highmage Series, and the more contemporary Dare2Believe series. He is also the author of the space opera series, Terran Catalyst. His most recently published book includes Nowhere to Go But Mars, a novella, and the forthcoming Knight of the Broken Table. His short stories have appeared in ezines and anthologies.
D.H. Aire is originally from St. Louis, Missouri and currently resides in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. To learn more about Lessers Not Losers and his other projects, visit the author’s website, www.dhaire.net, or follow him on Twitter at @dare2believe1 or Dare 2 Believe on Facebook.

Here’s the link to book cover on Amazon:
https://m.media-amazon.com/images/I/41nYjoMdOhL.jpg

How Spec Fiction Helped Me Earn My (Rainbow) Wings by Deanna Rasch

Hello, Fellow Readers and Writers of Speculative Fiction!
Wendy and I were guests together on a recent recording of the Sci-Fi Roundtable Podcast. The episode centered around women writers of SF/Fantasy. Terrific conversation. A great connection between the guests. I’m jazzed to have been a part of it and hope that you tune in when it airs : )

Here’s the thing. I nearly didn’t raise my hand when the invitation to participate came out. It was a knee-jerk reaction to just step back. Bow out. Something I’ve gotten used to doing when something’s labeled “for women.” Because I identify both as a lesbian in orientation and beyond my female biology in gender – queer, genderqueer, non-binary are each cool with me.

Sometimes, it’s my own discomfort that gets in the way in certain circles of women. Sometimes it’s that of the women in the circle. Either way, it doesn’t always feel worth the trouble in some social situations. In this situation, I’m glad I raised my hand. Grateful for Wendy’s warm “come on in.” Not to mention her invitation to do this guest post.

Now, you came here to read a post about speculative fiction. And it’s Pride Month as I’m writing this. So, here’s the connection.
Like many queer folks—especially young adults of my generation (think Star Trek: The Next Generation)—I knew without a doubt I was not altogether comfortable in my female body. Along with the expectations of the time about being female. There weren’t identities available at the time to describe my experience.

Except in the world of spec fiction.

In retrospect, it’s no wonder I was drawn to alien species on my television screen. The ones who either refused or worked hard to fit in. To the stories in the classic SF novels slipped to me in school by the kindly nun who seemed, on some level, to get my difference. In them, I found glimpses of potential identities, relationships, family—even if it took backflips of translation to get there.

In a time and a place (Midwest, U.S.) without resources for folks of similar experience, those books and shows literally saved me. Transported me until I could resource myself. Until the wheel of time could turn a few more times to allow for changes and broader acceptance. Growing up and living in the margins like that is an experience of isolation and search for community. These stories—as story does—taught me the power of imagination in creating your place in the world.

These stories also gave me wings. Starting with the dragon wings of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series. Not only did they refer to the first gay relationships I’d seen in print; but a world with telepathic dragon companions in a lifelong bond with their riders was a balm to the loneliness of a queer teen.

That world inspired me to write the (very closeted) essay about SF/Fantasy that earned me a scholarship to a private high school my parents couldn’t afford. Which led to unanticipated opportunities for college and, eventually, an MFA in Creative Writing, which currently supports both my own writing and my work coaching writers and editing their work. Wings.

Ursula K. LeGuin and John Varley asked important questions in their stories about binary gender. Sexual orientation. And about relationships that defied the binary in a variety of ways. They each explored the concept of transitioning, as well, each through their unique lens. Reading The Left Hand of Darkness, The Telling, The Titan Series, and Steel Beach as a teen/young adult gave the beginnings of form to feelings I’d nursed for some time. A sense of freedom. Encouragement to keep exploring them, redefining them as culture allowed. Wings.

I’ve never stopped going to spec fiction for it’s brave explorations—and, yes, speculations–when it comes to the possibilities of relationship, cultural, racial, and personal identities. To Octavia Butler, Nicola Griffith, Margaret Atwood, Poul Anderson—the list goes on. How those identities often intersect with magic, technology, science, sociology in spec fic, to me, only expands the potentialities. Keeps giving me hope for a more accepting future. Authors like Charlie Jane Anders, Kameron Hurley, Becky Chambers, Akwaeke Emezi, Noelle Stevenson, J.Y. Yang, Tamsin Muir, and so many more are exploding that future into the present.

I hope you don’t mind that I got a bit personal in this post. Maybe it’s not what you were expecting. It may have even been a bit uncomfortable, for some. It’s important, I feel, as writers, to be reminded once in a while that we’re always writing for an audience—not only a market. That our audience can be counting on us to take risks and still be mindful in our representations. That our stories may be what some need, as well as what others want. To create space for #ownvoices. And when we, inevitably, show our growing places, our less-than-conscious spaces, that we accept feedback from those affected with grace, openness, and discernment.

And for the readers in us all: consider this a challenge to read—or keep reading—stories that have themes that trigger you. Characters outside those you comfortably relate to. Cultures alien to your experience. After all, that’s part of what puts the spec in spec fiction, isn’t it? : )

Diversity in the genre is increasing exponentially. It’s an exciting era for our favorite genres and the exciting hybrids that are emerging. We can appreciate our old favorites. And we can acknowledge that there were limits in some of the stories that excluded the participation reading invites of readers-in-the-margins.
We can do better—are doing better—as writers and readers. Becoming open to inclusion. I mean, if an institution like the Star Trek franchise can finally move closer to it’s vision and potential by acknowledging that Seven-of-Nine likes the ladies (without the translation I made in the 90’s)…well, it gives me hope. And wings as a writer. In the way spec fic always has.


D.M. Rasch is an author of LGBTQIAAP speculative fiction (and a sometimes poet) who lives in the Denver, CO area with 2 sister kittens who are pretty tough in the editing department. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing and balances work as a Creative Coach and Editor (as Deanna M. Rasch) with her writing in her business, Itinerant Creative Content & Coaching LLC . Find her work on the linked Amazon page and look forward to the upcoming publication of her YA novel Freedom’s Cost, as well as an appearance in the anthology, Innovation, Aug. 2020.
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Ten Rules of Time Travel by Ian Lehey

So you wish to include time traveling as part of your story? How hard can it be? Have a nutty scientist or brainy professor come up with a credible time machine, or stumble across one if you want to avoid some of the techy mumbo-jumbo, have them jump backwards or forwards to the time requested by the plot, and then, for the perfect Hollywood ending, everyone jumps back to their timeline and enjoys the cool effects of tweaking history.

Problems deriving from time-travel? There’s nothing so terrible about becoming your own father or mother (or both) that can’t be fixed with some counseling and some good parenting. (I think Douglas Adams said that.) It’s just like wiping a page from a history book and writing it again the way you want it to be, right?

Wrong.

The truth is that when it comes to time travel, the territory becomes rather uncertain if not entirely boggled. Here are ten things you should keep in mind when you start playing around with time.

1. If you are about to leap into the past, then it has already happened.

That’s right. The moment you allow your characters to jump back in time, then the alterations they will apply will already have taken place. This results in our first great dilemma: now that history has changed and the problem solved, what will motivate the heroes to jump back? When the solution is so effective that the problem never existed, who will need to think of a solution? One way to solve this is to conceal the fact that the current state of affairs is, in hindsight, a result of that jump, and that another, far worse, scenario would have ensued from not going back. In other words, the travelers’ motivations are not determined by something that will change, but something they have already changed.

2. Your traveler must, in no way, be connected to the facts he or she is trying to change.

As a collateral point to rule number one, any traveler altering events impacting their own timeline will automatically fail. This is because, by altering time, they will inevitably alter their own memory of what happened, and that will ultimately lead to different decisions the next time around.
“Wait what next time?”, you ask. Well that leads us to:

4. It’s a loop. An infinite one.

Get it?

3. It’s a loop. An infinite one.

A successful leap into the past is one that will always have happened. One in which the traveler will, at a certain point, either devise their own way to travel or be thrown back in time by a series of events which must, always, result in the same outcome. Time will not permit an ever-changing number of different outcomes, it will stabilize into a flow where the jump never happens, or where it does, but always follows the same exact script. The effects of this on the characters can be very dark, or also quite funny. Especially for short jumps. Just like this little joke.

5. Time is memory.

In other words, our only sense for the passing of time is our ability to keep a record of past events. As a result, altering time inevitably alters the record. There are only two ways out of this paradox, in my opinion: One way is based on the theory of alternative universes which is so popular nowadays. In this theory, when you travel in time what you really do is jump to a different reality where what you did has changed history, but you come from a universe where nothing was done, so your memory of that history remained the same. This theory has a few flaws, well pointed out by the Rick & Morty series, including meeting infinite yous intent on changing their histories, and infinite other yous content with their lot and suddenly buggered by all the goddamn people turning up at their door.

Another way is to have time change from the old reality to the new rewritten one, but slowly. Slowly enough for the transition itself to be noticed and recorded. This is what I did in my short story “Hero of Stolen Time”. In it, the hero Ratscrap is the only one capable of jumping back two years into the past to stop the beginning of a terrible series of Viking incursions. When he fails to do so, partially because Ratscrap is a self-loathing coward, reality slowly begins to shift to a Viking-ridden village where everyone’s soon-to-be alternative is killed. Knowing this, Ratscrap must jump back to preserve his reality as well as his own miserable life.

6. The Bootstrap Paradox.

This theory was described quite beautifully in a Dr. Who episode and went like this:

Imagine your character is a Beethoven fanatic. He packs his collection of sheet music and jumps back to meet the man himself to discuss all things musical. When he finally sees Ludwig, our hero is horrified to discover the great composer doing nothing but sitting on the sofa and scratching his butt. (I think the Doctor put it more elegantly). Panicking, the time traveler shoves all of Beethoven’s sheet music in the loafing musician’s hands and hurriedly leaps back to the present to discover, to his relief, that the great Ludwig still is the world-renown musical genius.

The paradox is this: who composed the music? Our hero would swear it was Beethoven, but Ludwig would say it was a frantic looking man with a funny German accent who made it and gave it to him. You can’t jump back in time and hand J.K. Rowling a copy of Harry Potter. That’s worse than becoming your own parent.

7. I don’t have time for number 7.

8. Beware the uncanny valley. (Yes, there’s one in time travel too)

People who read sci-fi appreciate the imaginative way authors apply their scientific knowledge. A lack of scientific detail will undermine the credibility of your story. When it comes to time and time travel, science itself becomes rather iffy. To put it in other words, there’s a whole lot of fi in the sci already. Some writers will try to compensate this by adding even more details on exploiting naturally occurring nano-wormholes, strings, membranes and that ever-recurring buzzword, the quantum [insert something here]. The result is that, past a certain threshold, the authors themselves get so garbled as to put off even the most hardened geek. Make it scientzy, but don’t overdo it. Sometimes it’s preferable to simplify too much rather than overexplain it. Ratscrap’s time jumping ability, for instance, came from a simple magic potion.

A magic potion? Jeez, who am I trying to fool here? That’s almost as bad as quantum.

9. Forward jumps are ok. Sometimes.

Making your hero jump forward in time is absolutely doable. Unless you have the nerve to also bring them back. In that case, all of the above rules apply again. Knowledge of future events could potentially lead to attempts aimed at altering that future, but in that case, the original future never existed, so why change it? Headaches anyone? (One of Ratscrap’s side effects of time travel was a massive, sentient headache).

10. Alternatives to time travel.

There are a couple of more approachable alternatives to time travel, to avoid headaches, embarrassing family reunions and all that excessive mucking about with quantum and J.K.Rowling.

One way to travel into the past safely is to “tune in” to a past moment. This can be done by sending back a hidden probe, or waiting for when everyone will have a memory chip installed into their brains and simply playback their experience, or even sync present and past atoms to create a replica via, sigh, quantum entanglement. In all three cases, the past cannot be altered but only experienced as a hologram or virtual reality.
Another alternative to changing the past is even simpler. As stated in rule no. 5, time is memory. Do you really need to send your character back in time to hide the fact that they murdered someone? Wouldn’t it be relatively easier to alter everyone’s memory of the event, so that the murder becomes an accident? In this case, the hero’s memory would remain intact, as well as anyone’s they wish to preserve.

These are just ideas, not to be taken as absolute guidelines. Just make sure your plot holds, maybe catch a glimpse of the future to check how readers will respond and you will have seen – are going to have seen…

Truth be told, the hardest thing about writing time travel are the damn tenses.


Ian Lahey, author, dreamer, and Olympic-level binge-watcher, teaches English Language and Literature in Italy. Apart from writing arguably decent fiction, he also cooks with nearly edible results, tinkers with computer graphics, and does quite a lot of gardening, since he needs to replace all the plants he’s inadvertently killed.
https://ilahey.com

Author Branding by Rennie St. James

Marketing Books Photo
Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash

Are you branded?

No, this isn’t some writing kink post. This is a post about the business side of writing though. I originally did a guest post on 10 Minute Novelists on this topic. This post is a re-vamp of that one with some new ideas and discussion.

If you’re an author, you have probably worried about sales. You’ve probably adjusted your pricing and ran sales. You’ve probably also despaired of ever making a living by your books alone.

Have you seen (or posted) the example of people happily paying $5 for coffee before tipping, but then complaining that a book costs $0.99?? I have posted that myself and ranted and raved privately about the injustice of it. It’s taken time for me to see this in a new and different light.

By time, I mean the seven years I’ve been writing and six since I first self-published. This may seem like a drop in the bucket compared to your writing life…or it could seem like I’m incredibly ancient. It doesn’t really matter – even if writers aren’t in the exact same boat, we are setting sail on the same waters. These waters can be annoying calm (no sales or reviews) or terrifyingly turbulent (release week or bad reviews).

Branding is a way to sail those waters more comfortably and profitably.

This advice isn’t my own though I do follow it. I’m also not earning a living by books alone. As with anything in this world, I’d suggest you keep reading, research for yourself and try out some new things. Which means we need to get back to the topic of branding and those people paying so much more for a cup of coffee.

See, those people aren’t just buying a cup of coffee. They are buying a brand. In the case of Starbucks, one that has been around since 1971. Those people have bought countless coffees that met or exceeded their needs and that’s what they are paying for – that guaranteed success of getting what they want when they want it.

As authors, we have to build our brand too. We have to give readers a clear expectation and meet/ exceed it…and we must do that many times.

What exactly is your brand and how do you build it?

1. Rainbows

A marketing author on FB described a brand as a rainbow. Being an author is only one color and no rainbow is made up one only one color.
What type of books do you write? What do you like to do outside of writing? What type of books do you read? Do you have family (furry or human)? These are all part of your rainbow.

Author Kristen Painter shares personal stories about her cats and her cooking (both figure into her books). If you are writing about things you love then you have some easy things to add to your rainbow.

2. 70/30 Rule

Spamming drop and go links in hundreds of groups is a strategy. Here’s another one – post 70% about your life and only 30% about your book. This means those rainbows of color we discussed above get a chance to shine.

Check your social media feed. How often do you post ‘buy my book’ things? Add some more colors to your rainbow and see what type of interactions you get. This is not to say promoting your book is bad. That 30% of your feedback is for your self-promo.

3. Be a reader.

One easy color to add to your rainbow is that of a reader. Join groups and follow hashtags as a reader, not just an author. Fanboy/ fangirl out and stalk your favorite authors and celebrities. As readers, we all know that seeing someone read our favorite book automatically makes us like them (at least a little bit). Seek out those people who love the things you do and build those relationships. Again, it should be something you enjoy so it’s not work. It is smart marketing (esp when you stalk authors who are successful).

4. Support fellow writers.

Being part of the writing community is another color for your rainbow and should be another easy addition.
I love the motto that ‘other writers are not my competition.’ Yes, we are all trying to make a living and sell books. This means only other authors understand the hazards of sailing on the ocean with us. Writers are our Tribe and we should support one another. Join writer groups and be active…and not just when you need something. Retweet generously, like often, and comment whenever possible.
We’ve all been there during those rough times when a random-like or comment absolutely makes your day. It may seem small and it is which also means it’s easy to do.

5. Your book baby is your product.

No parent should have to pimp out their baby, but that’s what we have to do as authors. Work to separate the creative writing side from the business selling side.

Remember Starbucks and their $5 coffee? You want to make sales too, right? It’s a business. Be professional in your interactions and remember that selling your book is a job.

To go back to Starbucks again, they don’t just offer customers one cup of coffee every 2-3 years. Build your library of books and consider waiting to publish until you have more content to offer. Join some anthologies, try online magazines, blog, etc. There are many ways to add to your products. Again, if you pick things you like, it will seem less like work and be more enjoyable.

Are you ready to build your brand?

Are you already branded and have ideas to share?

I would love to discuss further with my fellow writers. I have stolen the ideas above from others and still have much to learn. There are also many paths to success and many of us will have to try various ones. In the interest of full disclosure, not only did I steal the ideas above but implementing them hasn’t made me a successful writer by traditional standards. However, I am a writer with a fulltime job who needs to make the best use of her time and wants to continue sailing these hazardous waters of publishing. I’m also a writer who wants to share things I’ve learned along my journey so far.

Share your thoughts here so we can all learn together!


Rennie St. James shares several similarities with her fictional characters (heroes and villains alike) including a love of chocolate, horror movies, martial arts, history, yoga, and travel. She is proudly owned by three rescue kitties including an all-black lady adopted on Friday the 13th. They live in relative harmony in beautiful southwestern Virginia (United States). The Rahki Chronicles is Rennie’s first urban fantasy series, and the first five books are available now. Her Atlantic Island: Guardian Trilogy will be released in 2020. Rennie also has drabbles and short stories included in several multi-author anthologies by a variety of publishers. You can find her all over social media as she loves to interact with fellow bookworms and authors.

Website: https://writerrsj.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/writerRSJ/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/writer.rsj/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/WriterRSJ
Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/rennie-st-james
Book link: http://books2read.com/RahkiWorld

In Praise of Creative Play by Dorthy Winsor

Photo by Jacky Watt on Unsplash

In February, I attended Capricon, a speculative fiction convention that took place in the Chicago suburbs. It was fun. Some of those attending were writers who gave readings or spoke on panels, but Tobias Buckell, the guest of honor, was the only well-known author there. Mostly, it was a fan convention, and the writers at the con also saw themselves as fans. Attendees could wear costumes, browse the art show, shop in the dealer room, experiment with the starship bridge simulator, and join in role-play gaming.

Afterwards it occurred to me that these local speculative fiction cons are everywhere, particularly if you count ComicCons. Speculative fiction is not the most widely read genre. That honor belongs to romance. Yet spec fic seems to have the most fan conventions. I started to speculate (pun intended) on why that should be so.

I suggest two reasons. First, world-building is a strong element in the genre, and a desire to explore or even live in those author-built worlds is common. Second, in spec fic, the line between writers and fans is thin and porous. The genre seems to encourage creative play, and conventions nourish it.

The Importance of the World

I can think of speculative fiction set in, say, Chicago. For example, Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series features a magician/detective operating in my fair city, though it’s a city that’s altered by the presence of paranormal beings. But it’s very common for both science fiction and fantasy to set their stories in worlds that the author creates more or less from scratch. Those worlds can be future space colonies or kingdoms that never existed or a huge variety of other options.

For spec fic fans, such world-building is important. They want to be lifted out of their everyday world and transported elsewhere. They fantasize about what it would be like to be the characters they read about and live in those worlds. That’s why Universal Studios can have a Harry Potter World that people rush to visit, while they don’t have, say, a Jack Reacher World, despite the popularity of Lee Child’s mystery series.

Fan conventions offer readers or movie/TV viewers the chance to live for a day or two in a bit of their favorite pretend world, even if it’s only in a minor way. That’s one thing those costumes are about. Conference-goers slip into character and tacitly agree to respect one another’s fun. Want to wear that Gryffindor jacket hiding in your closet? A con is your chance.

Overlap Between Writers and Readers

The second and most important element enabling spec fic cons is the overlap between writers and readers. In a way that undermines the pretenses of the Artist with a capital A, the genre seems to encourage breaking down the barrier between those who create art and those who consume it.
Some of the attendees were literally writers or podcast producers or graphic novel designers. But among story creators, I think you have to count the role play gamers who create characters and lead them through adventures. You also have to count the folks in costumes who are acting out their own stories.
In an utterly delightful way, spec fic seems to encourage play and creativity, and fan conventions are the result.
Other Genres Can Share the Fun

As I thought about this, I couldn’t see why spec fic readers should be the only ones to have this kind of fun, though it’s true that some genres lend themselves more than others. Regency romance? Those fans are enthusiastic and can probably think of apt costumes and games. Historical fiction has many of the same opportunities for costume and world that spec fic does, and a historian friend says she does occasionally see someone in costume at their big conference.

It seems to me that what holds us back from widening the fan convention world is that we are embarrassed to be caught pretending. We think we’re too old to play. But to me, a reader is always pretending for a while. You’re always imagining that you’re someone else, living another life. That’s not embarrassing. That’s good. It’s enriching.

So here’s advice for readers of all genres: Go forth and play!

Dorothy A. Winsor writes young adult and middle-grade fantasy. Her novels include Finders Keepers (Zharmae, 2015), Deep as a Tomb (Loose Leave Publishing, 2016), The Wind Reader (Inspired Quill, 2018), and The Wysman (June, 2020). At one time, Winsor taught technical writing at Iowa State University and GMI Engineering & Management Institute (now Kettering). She then discovered that writing fiction is much more fun and has never looked back. She lives in Chicagoland.

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