Tomorrow Night: Friday September 25th at 7pm, my wife, the fabulous Dr. Laura McCullough and I will be on stage at the Phoenix Theater in Minneapolis for a live recording of the Screw It! wine podcast hosted by Dawn Krosnowski and Lana Rosario, a pair of talented and lovely Twin Cities actresses and comedians. This should be good silly fun with some attached discussion of art and wine. Neither Laura nor I is particularly versed in wine lore, so expect honest amateur reactions and much talk about things like books and science and art. Afterward I should have some time to sign books etc, if you should choose to bring them*
Here’s the official description:
“Author Kelly McCullough (School for Sidekicks, Fallen Blade series, Webmage series, and the Dragon Diaries fame) and his amazing wife, Laura, are gonna hang out and drink with wine with us!
You should come, too! We’ll be drinking the fabulous wine offerings that the Phoenix Theater has to offer to so you can try the wines with us!
…Hopefully they won’t be as bad as “canned wine product”…
Feel free to bring a book or twelve and your photo taking device since Kelly has agreed to do a book signing after the show.
Yay! Nerds unite! And drink wine!
(Admission is free)”
If I were more on the ball you would have had weeks of warning on this and much in the way of reminders, but I am so far underwater on the things I need to do that I’m actually feeling kind of proud that I got a post done for this at all—lowered self expectations for the win!
*Sadly, I won’t have any for sale because I’m really not set up for retail.
An academic friend asked me if I would be willing to put together some thoughts on how I use communication skills in my profession. Since I’m a novelist, a wall of text fell out. I thought it might be of use to others, so here it is.
As an author with a dozen novels in print, my entire job is communication. Primarily that’s via the written word in my fiction, and on social media which I use to keep in touch with my audience and draw in new readers on the professional side, but I also do a lot of public speaking and appearances.
In the written form I mostly work at novel length, but also do things like twitter micro-fiction to keep people entertained in the long gaps between novels. Working at 140 characters is a particular challenge as you’re forced to pack a lot of meaning into a tiny space. Often, in my case including a full joke including punch line, since much of what I do is humor.
That tiny space in need of a big punch is also something I do on the public speaking side of my job. I do a lot talking on panels at science fiction conventions and literary events. When you’ve got four to six people all talking over the course of an hour event, you have on average 10-15 minutes total to address the topic, and to make an impression on the audience. Usually that will come in a series of 30 second to 2 minute chunks in which you need to try to do as many of the following as possible: address the topic, be wise, be clever, be funny, be profound, share your love of the work, share the space with fellow panelists, don’t be a jerk, advertise for you work. Note, I put advertise last. On panels your job, beyond addressing the topic, is to make yourself interesting and likable enough for people to want to look into what you do.
On the public speaking side, I also do personal appearances at schools, keynote speeches, and readings/signing at bookstores and other venues. Each of those requires different sorts of public speaking skills.
Schools are generally mix of reading from my work and question and answer. Kids are a tough audience. They get restless easily, they don’t want to be talked down to, and they’re very curious. I generally keep reading sections with kids to very short pieces and try to spend more time addressing their questions. I’ve found that treating them with complete honesty and like miniature adults in terms of respect is what works best for me there.
Another note on question and answer involves making sure your audience has heard the question and that you’re answering the right thing. With quiet speakers or people who are anxious or otherwise garble the question, I will often restate it for the audience while making eye contact with the speak to make sure I’m really representing what they’ve asked. Sometimes this involves code-shifting, i.e. taking a question that’s asked in a very academic way and shifting it into a more vernacular sort of speech. Or, taking a convolute or slangy construction and rephrasing it more succinctly and clearly.
Keynotes are tougher. I’m a writer by trade which means I normally spend my days alone with a keyboard. Giving a 30-50 minute speech followed by question and answer is a radically different environment and it always makes me very happy that my background is in theater which taught me the value of clarity, enunciation, speaking at a conversational pace, vocal discipline and sustain and how not to say “um” all the time. It also taught me to practice my speeches beforehand.
My theater background is also a huge benefit to me for readings, where it helps me with characterization, dramatic timing, and making sure my audience feels I’m engaging them. For example, I simulate lots of eye contact during a reading—making sure to look out into the audience and rest my eyes on faces in different places. That’s my theater teachers taught me to do even when completely blinded by spotlights and a dark house. I used to do actual eye contact when I could, but I can’t shift between near and far vision that well anymore.
Signings, which often coincide with readings are another and different communication challenge. You need to give a little time and genuine attention to everyone who comes out to have a book signed. These are your hard core readers, the people who most care about your work and they’ve earned that consideration. Especially those who come out again and again. I’m terrible with names, and I make that part of my patter. I let people know that I remember their faces and when I’ve seen them before even if I can’t remember names or spell them to save my life.
That connection is what’s really at the core of all of my non-fiction communication. Whether it’s chatting with people on twitter who’ve liked my work, answering fan mail, meeting readers at signings, or making eye contact while reading and giving speeches, you have to make sure to actually connect with people, to respect them, communicate clearly, and to make sure you’re giving them your best self.
I’m a local politician as well as an author, and many of these things are cross platform skills: the speech making, the clarity and engagement, etc. This is especially true of the code shifting, which I want to talk about a bit more, as it’s something that’s often overlooked or undervalued. My most valuable skill for politics, which is mostly meetings, is code-shifitng. English isn’t really one language, it just sounds like it.
Academics, for example, use one primary set of jargon when speaking casually with each other, a separate one for written communication that will be part of the permanent record, and wide variety of in-disicpline lexicons. Or, a Wisconsin dairy farmer and a corporate lawyer may well use the same words but with meanings that vary from the same, through similar, to wildly different. I do a lot of inter-English translation as part of the politician side of my life.
Code-shifting is a skill honed through theater and public speaking, but developed through growing up in a variety of settings. My earliest memories are of being rural poor in North Dakota living with my single mother and grandmother—one version of English. At six I moved to Saint Paul and became urban poor—another version. As I went to a hippie school and we moved into the middle class, I learned two more sets of the English language. At ten my mother remarried to a carpenter—yet another set terms and meanings. When I went to college I learned both basic academic and the professional jargon of theater. When I later married and my wife went to grad school, I learned both of the more advanced forms of basic academic as well as the specialized versions of education and physics.
Being able not just to code-shift, but to recognize when people are speaking different versions of English and help bridge the gap between the two is one of my best and most useful communication skills. It helps with every part of my job as a novelist and public speaker as well as my political hobby.
This is the first public taste of my School for Sidekicks universe which launches at novel length on August 4th with School for Sidekicks. Here are a couple of reviews for the novel: Kirkus. Publisher’s Weekly.
In related news, I will be doing a number of launch events:
On August 4th at 7pm at the Har Mar Barnes and Noble in Roseville MN, I will be reading and signing.
On August 6th at 3pm EST (2pm CST) I will be doing a reddit Ask Me Anything
On August 8th at 1pm I will be signing books at Uncle Hugo’s in Minneapolis MN. You can order in advance and have me custom sign things and then they will ship them to you, if you’re so inclined.
I will be at the Lafayette Indiana Barnes and Noble this Saturday, May 2nd, from 1:00-3:00pm signing books and chatting with readers for the Darkened Blade launch.
One week warning: I will be reading from Darkened Blade at 7pm on April 28 at Barnes & Noble in Roseville MN
I will be at the Lafayette IN Barnes and Noble on May 2nd from 1:00pm-3:00pm.
I will be at Uncle Hugo’s in Minneapolis on Saturday May 9th at 1:00 PM.
I will be at the 4th Street Fantasy Con June 26-28 in Minneapolis MN.
Finally, I will be at CONvergence in Bloomington MN July 2-5.
CONvergence 2009 day 1 (W) Kelly’s Con Report
Packing and the drive in
Getting everything we needed for GoHing at a 4 day convention into the Smart was a fun challenge. It was also really cool to drive the brand new micro-car in to the convention. It was the last time I was allowed to drive for the weekend as both Laura and I were concerned that I would be too distracted once things got going.
Laura and I arrived on Wednesday evening and were met by Mandy Temple who gave us our room keys in the club floors of the north tower. We unloaded and grabbed some snacks at the club lounge then checked the room out–pausing periodically to look down at the Smart and squee. After unpacking we headed down to the pre-con reception.
The reception was a big informal event with snacks and drinks and fabulous cake.
I met up with my guest liaisons there, Lisa and Jenn who had signed up for the task of making sure I made it to all my programming and generally catering to my every whim as a GoH, tasks at which they excelled. I also met liaisons Anton and Megan, and Mandy’s husband Mark. I met several of the others as well but the six named here are the ones who primarily took care of Laura and I. The liaison corps is incredible and we were pretty much treated like royalty for the duration of our stay with the con, though I am perhaps a bit too midwestern to revel in it as much as I should have.
Other points of note:
This is when I got my amazing custom designed badge and signed a poster with the same Mel/Connie art as the badge for the chai drink recipe they asked me to concoct for Cof2e2 (the con’s coffee house). I called my drink the Tickled Goblin: chai, milk, chocolate, and whipped cream. I also chatted with a young fan named Jon who was quite excited to meet the author of a book he very much liked.
I was already pretty dazed by everything as I was introduced to Chris Jones (who did the amazing badge art) and Jon Olsen (who was involved in THACO) as well as several more con-com folks. I also re-met Peter Verrant and Michael Lee. After that I sat around with Laura and Pat Rothfuss and chatted with an ever-changing circle of people, many of them old friends, including Tim, Pat, Karl, Jody, Angie, Ed, and several more folks whose names are currently escaping me–have I mentioned that I’m really bad at names? After a while the reception wound down and Mandy escorted us back up to our room to make sure we were comfortable.
We chatted very briefly with Mandy as she dropped off a big bag of snacks and soda (they’d asked me for a list several days before) and my master schedule, which included several non-public events like the GoH group photo shoot and my interview time and location. I also handed off the items I’d brought for the charity auction: a copy of the Weird Tales that debuted my first story (the original WebMage short), a limited edition promotional paperback that ACE put out with a number of authors’ first chapters entitled “Urban Noir,” and a custom license plate (Womp Rat) from a Hyundai I’d owned back in 2001–a Hyundai’s not much bigger than 2 meters….
After that, Laura and I collapsed in a happy heap and went to sleep.
CONvergence 2009 day 2 (Th) Kelly’s Con Report
Started the morning with breakfast at the Original Pancake House with Mandy, Mark, Megan, Laura and returning GoH Brian Keene who I’d never met before–great guy. OPH can do most of their pancakes and waffles gluten free which made them a great fit for Laura. Wonderful food and good company.
Afterward we headed back and wandered around the con for a bit, catching up with numerous friends, and people-watching–which latter is one of the great joys of CONvergence. I didn’t have anything scheduled until five, and was pretty much free to roam until then, so we did.
My first panel was at five “Going from a Poor Unpublished Author to a Poor Published Author” with fellow GoH Pat Rothfuss. It was pretty much the Pat and Kelly show and a fun panel since I like Pat (having previously guested with him at the Chippewa Valley Book Festival) and we play off each other well. The focus was mostly on how you get from writing to getting paid for writing, and surrounding subtopics.
My next event was Opening Ceremonies scheduled for seven, where I would have the arduous task of standing up and waving to the crowd when they introduced me. Yay, very hard to blow standing up and waving, right?
The plan was to head over about ten minutes before the event began and meet my liaisons for an escort down to the front row. At a quarter to seven we were standing on the bridge-side balcony overlooking the pool. At the time I noted that we needed to get moving in about four minutes, since we didn’t have far to go. Five minutes later, my liaison Jenn, magically appeared to let us know it was time to escort us over to the main stage. Let me note that I hadn’t seen either of my liaisons in over an hour, nor noticed anyone else from the liaison corps. Yet, in the very instant that I was in danger of being a minute late, Jenn appeared. I will happily recommend any of the CONvergence liaisons for Secret Service duty should they want.
So, then we get into the back of the main stage and find out that the previous event is running a little long. I took that as a sign that I had a moment to duck off to the men’s room and did so. When I came back I discovered that from the back Jenn and Laura are very nearly twins (see my pictures below). I managed (only just) not to wrap my arms around the wrong redhead and we waited two more minutes before heading down to our seating.
Okay, you remember that I noted that all I had to do was stand up and wave at the right moment? Well, I blew it by standing up way too early and then being stuck there for some time when the very on top of it techies hit me with a spotlight through my whole intro. Everyone else, perhaps learning from my mistakes, got it right, standing briefly at the end of their intros. Sigh.
BTW, I normally skip opening ceremonies at conventions for a variety of reasons, but these were fabulous–fast, funny, and soon over. Several of the other GoH with much more experience at this whole routine told me that these were the best they’d ever seen.
After the ceremonies we headed out for dinner. We being me, Laura, fellow GoHs Pat Rothfuss and Dwayne McDuffie, Dwayne’s fiancee Charlotte Fullerton (who writes for a number of television shows), Anton, Megan, and fellow Wyrdsmith Sean Murphy (who is also my brother-in-law). Over the next 2-1/2 hours we had a wide-ranging discussion about art, politics, religion, and all those things you talk about with smart opinionated people. 2014 Editing to add that this dinner stands out in my memory five years later as one of the great dinner conversations of my life, and I am so happy that I got the chance to meet and really talk with Dwayne McDuffie before death stole him from all of us way too early. Every time I think about that loss I cry.
And then to bed.
Since Friday was going to be my longest day of the convention Laura and I headed to bed pretty much right after dinner.
CONvergence 2009 day 3 (Fri) Kelly’s Con Report
We had breakfast at the OPH again, this time with Dwayne, Charlotte, Anton, and Anton’s friend Tom. Laura had banana pancakes, and I had basted eggs and country bacon, yum. More cool conversation. Dwayne, like Laura is a physicist, and Charlotte told an amazingly cool story about meeting Jim Henson when she was a kid and how he helped her start down the path to becoming a TV writer.
I was highly scheduled on Friday with no passing time between my first three events, which meant I was a little late to my reading. If not for the efficiency of my liaison Jenn, I’d have been a lot late, and probably never have found the photo shoot.
12:30 PM: Beta Reading: Relying on the Honesty of Friends (Panelist(s): Kelly McCullough, Elise Matthesen, M. K. Melin, Kathy Sullivan
This was a fun panel with a lot of useful advice on how to give and receive critique.
1:00 PM: GoH group photo shoot.
We got a tour of the back passages of the hotel on our way to this event, which was in a section of ballroom seemingly cut off from everything but the catering entrance. We were all pretty punchy for the session and got some great silly shots including one with Joel Hodgson punching me in the jaw and another recreating the shooting of Jack Ruby–did I mention we were really punchy? The final, official, version has Dwayne and I and a couple of others holding Joel horizontally in the air in front of the rest of the group. Dwayne’s taking most of the weight with me getting much of the rest. There was also a really great group shot with us and all of the liaisons. Afterward we signed copies of our badges and a number of tee-shirts as prizes for various awards and charity purposes. As a side note, we also signed a set of the group shots on Saturday for similar purposes.
2:00 PM: Kelly McCullough GOH Reading
I was about 8 minutes late to my own reading, and then it took a couple more minutes to get started as the con was giving Inkheart tees away to people who showed up in an unannounced prize. I read from SpellCrash, the forthcoming final book in the WebMage series and it seemed to go over well. I was still mighty punchy though, so I did more humorous and editorial asides than I might have otherwise. Also, being late meant I was forced to end with my protagonists falling through space, instead of at the rest point I’d hoped to get to a couple of pages later. After the reading, one of the people from the MNPoly room party stopped by to invite us to stop by and see the life-size mural they’d done of my Furies as part of their Greek gods theme–punchy as I was this didn’t fully register but I did jot down the room number and promise to drop by.
3:30 PM: Inserting Humor Into Your Writing
(Panelist(s): Kelly McCullough, Brian Keene, M. K. Melin, S.D. Hintz, Jerrod Balzer, Patrick Rothfuss
I think there were actually even more of us there because of one or two late additions, and the room was packed. The panel went all right due to handing over the moderation to Pat, who isn’t afraid to be a hard-ass moderator, but it was a little unfocused as usually happens with large panels.
Before the panel, my liaisons stopped by to make sure I got fed, and somewhere in here is when I started leaning on them for stuff that I just didn’t have the time to do. I asked Jenn to fetch me some caffeine, and either she or Lisa kept showing up with diet coke when I needed it thereafter and Megan offered to run grab me some egg rolls from the con-suite which sounded lovely, so she sprinted off to fetch them. Have I mentioned how very taken care of I felt at this con? Thank you all!
Afterward another of the MNPoly folks stopped by to let me know about the mural. She also noted that she was cross-playing as Raven from my books. At this point the idea of a mural and someone dressing as one my characters seemed cool, but still didn’t really sink in due to the intensity of my schedule thus far.
That’s also when the folks from the House of Toast stopped by and got me to come up with a toast recipe–which I wrote on the paper plate they handed me and then signed, promising to try to stop by their party later.
5:00 PM: Why Writers Should Archive
(Panelist(s): Kelly McCullough, Meredith Gillies, Elise Matthesen, Lynne Thomas
Another fun one. Lynne, who archives my stuff, graciously consented to be the moderator. In addition to being a fine moderator, she is both articulate and funny. So are Meredith, who I had never met before, and Elise. That’s really all you need for a good panel, but this one also had the fact that all of us are passionate on the topic going for it. Oh, and props. Meredith had brought some copies of items from her collection (she runs the giant bat cave under the U of Mn) and I had hauled along a box of manuscripts that I needed to pass off to Lynne.
In which I slipped my handlers’ leash and went to dinner with friends from out of state. Okay, that’s not completely true. I asked my liaisons nicely what I needed to do if I was going to go off grid for a bit and let them know where I was going and that I would be back after dinner. Laura and I then went to dinner at the Good Earth with our friends Tom Foster (who was Laura’s office mate in grad-school) and Pamela Gay (who is a big name astronomy podcaster among the many science outreach hats she wears).
So, after dinner we stopped back at the room, dropped some stuff off and then headed for the parties. We did stop in at House of Toast briefly in here, but they were really packed and we ended up getting distracted by something shiny and wandering off before we got any toast 🙁 We also stopped at COF2E2 and I had a Tickled Goblin which was actually quite yummy.
Then we went to MNPoly and there were my Furies and Jess in Raven garb, and I pretty much stripped all the remaining gears on my mental transmission. The red carpet treatment and all the attention I was getting had already made this both a fabulous and surreal weekend and led to midwestern me losing a steadily increasing number of gear teeth–going further and further into a sort of state of shock–but the mural and crossplay just completely blew my mind. I was really stunned and humbled and it wasn’t until we came back a bit later with Lynne and Michael Thomas, and Michael made some comment about how cool it was that I had someone cosplaying my main character and life-size fan art that it actually sank in. WOW, just WOW.
Later, (~10:30) as I was standing on the bridge-side balcony people-watching and trying to process the whole experience, Brian Keene came along with a couple of bottles of really smooth bourbon and sent one of his liaison’s off to find a cup for me–Laura can’t drink it because of possible gluten issues (2014 ETA: new research has shown bourbon is fine for celiacs, so YAY SCIENCE!). His timing couldn’t have been better, because A) I was still kind of shocky, and B) I had agreed to do a bit for villification tennis at 11:00 that included me taking a stage kick to the groin and I hadn’t done stage-combat or any kind of show in years, which meant that, C) a little loosening up was called for. The bourbon definitely loosened me up.
11:00 PM Vilification Tennis Main Stage
Having never been to a Vilification Tennis match before I didn’t really know what to expect beyond having a vague idea that two sides would be hurling (often unprintable) insults at each other. This despite the fact that VT and I had overlapped at the Ren Fest by a year or two.
The intro delivered by Tim Wick who is the VT referee was both very funny and quite offensive. That’s the point, and it was strongly suggested that if you could be offended now was the time to leave. After the initial part of the intro Tim wandered up to the front of the audience and introduced and picked on me, well us really, Tim, myself, and our old friend Karl who wasn’t there. Tim and I have known each other since we were 6 and have been friends since we were 9 and Tim killed my very first D&D character, so there was a fairly rich vein to tap in terms of growing up geek together. Not, as Tim pointed out, that either of us has moved out of geekdom.
Apparently being a middle-aged balding science fiction author who is married to a physicist doesn’t make me one of the cool kids. Who knew?
My bit in VT was a sort of half-time interlude in the shape of a family-feudesque gameshow, played for laughs not points. We got quite a few. I also got a mock “kick in the junk,” a knee actually, but kick was the phrasing in the question. Apparently I haven’t forgotten how to make it look real, since I got a number of very concerned sounding “are you okays?” from the other players. Oh, and I also got rug burn on my knees–from a different bit about which I can only say: “Khaaaaan!”
Then it was over and very late and time for me to go to bed.
CONvergence 2009 day 4 (Sat) Kelly’s Con Report
As some of you may recall I ended Friday in a case of complete gearstrippage due to all the cool stuff that had happened. Thus I began Saturday in a sort of advanced state of shock exacerbated by knowing what my first panel was going to be. More on which, later.
I had an earlyish panel, so we didn’t have time to got for breakfast and I just asked my liaison if she could grab a couple of sausage and egg biscuity things from Burger King for me and some yogurt for Laura and bring them by the room. I found asking for this remarkably hard to do, despite the fact that that’s one of the reasons they assign us liaisons.
I’m not that into me
So, my first panel on Saturday was one that I had very mixed feelings about beforehand:
11:00 AM: The Works of Kelly McCullough (Panelist(s): Kelly McCullough, Eric Heideman (mod), David Lenander (mod)
The reason for this is that I’m just not that into me. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a very healthy ego and I love to be the center of attention–I am a former actor after all. But at the same time, one of the joys of writing for me has turned out to be the time I spend alone sunk into make-believe worlds. Over the 18 years I’ve been writing, my extrovert/introvert balance has shifted from 90/10 to something more like 50/50. Beyond that, I feel like I haven’t really got a large enough published body of work to make for much of a discussion.
Maybe in five years if all the books now under submission are published*(next paragraph) there will be something to be said about my body of work. But now…I was more than a little worried about this panel. Needlessly, it turns out. David and Eric were fabulous at making me feel comfortable and making comments and asking questions that really made for a good discussion. Further, I had a great, interested, audience that included quite a few people who had beta read for me at one point or another and who could talk about my work in ways that never would have occurred to me. That said, this panel took a lot out of me, both in terms of worry beforehand and hard mental work during.
*which would bring me to 25 across 9 series when the proposal books are added in 2014 ETA currently at 1o across 2 series with two more scheduled, one in a new area of genre entirely and as many as four more that may be out over the next year independently—still not that into me, but at least there’d be something to talk about.
Which is why it was great that my next panel was:
12:30 PM: Meet the Wyrdsmiths (Description: Kelly McCullough, Lyda Morehouse, Naomi Kritzer, Sean M. Murphy, Doug Hulick
where I could sit back and let my fellow Wyrdsmiths carry most of the load. I’ve done four or five of these panels now, and they’re always an enormous amount of fun, in part because I know going in that the panel will go well. There are any number of ways a panel can fail: bad group dynamics, bad moderator, lone wolf panel hijacker, insufficient material, no audience interest…. With the Wyrdsmiths I know that 1-4 aren’t going to be an issue and that thus far the audience has been amused by “The Wyrdsmiths Variety Hour.” Even more than that though is that I know going in that I will be on a panel with friends who share my passion for writing.
In which I “volunteer” to moderate
After the Wyrdsmiths panel I had my third back–to-back programming item of the day.
2:00 PM: Genre Blender (Panelist(s): Kelly McCullough, Jeannie Holmes, Matthew Davis, S.D. Hintz, Dana Baird, Jerrod Balzer
When I arrived at this panel I was intercepted by my liaisons bearing diet coke and asking what I wanted them to bring me for lunch. Lunch? That’s a great idea. What are you having? Pizza? w00t! Me too. Can you tell I was getting used to having minions?
Since I hadn’t really had much previous interaction with the other folks on this panel I asked the “who wants to be the moderator?” question, which is essentially an invitation for everyone else to say “You!” which they did. I was okay with that for a number of reasons. 1) I’m pretty good in the moderator’s chair. 2) I would often rather moderate than hand the gavel to an unknown quantity. 3) The moderator doesn’t have to talk as much as everybody else if the panel is of any reasonable size.
So how did the panel go? Funny you should ask. I have almost no memory of this panel beyond the opening. I know that it went fairly well despite being somewhat low energy, beyond that…. No idea. Several days of being on had put me in a sort of fugue state where audience response was of more interest to my processing centers than precise tracking of what the hell I was saying or other higher cognition functions.
Then my pizza arrived! It turns out that the blurring was from lack of food as much as anything, and eating helped me recover enough for:
3:30 PM: Kelly McCullough Signing
I headed for the table where I was supposed be signing, pizza in hand (actually I ate at the table in the passing time between events).
our narrator (me) pauses and blinks because…there were people waiting in line to have their books signed, twenty minutes ahead of time.
Now that may not seems unusual to the people reading this, but this is the first time I’ve ever had a signing go like that. Usually I get to a bookstore about ten minutes early, get set up, and maybe one person arrives just at the opening. Then people trickle through, or if I’m reading, there are people waiting when things start, having arrived at most ten minutes early, and most of the rest show up in the first five minutes. I don’t know how many books I signed because I was too busy signing and chatting with my readers to keep track (another first), but Laura and my liaisons tell me that I had 20+ people, which is more than double my next largest pure signing event and bigger even than most of my reading/signings. Again, stunned and humbled.
Time for a liedown
This is the point at which Laura, in consultation with Jenn and Lisa decided it was time for me to go have some down time, which was a really good idea. Then, since we had five conflicting invites to dinner, mostly from people we get to see rarely, we had Jenn and Lisa scare us up some take-out and went back to our room, inviting our various dinner invitors to come back and hang out with us. 2-1/2 hours of not being on as GoH was just what the doctor ordered. I loved the whole CONvergence experience and would sign up to be a returning GoH in a heartbeat, but it was really nice to spend some time just chilling with old friends. Plus, there were fireworks. Our room had a great view of at least two sets.
After that we headed out to the parties, MNPoly (since several of the gang hadn’t yet seen the Furies) and Skepchicks, because that’s where a number of our friends were hanging out. Not too long after that Laura turned into a pumpkin and I had to take her back to the room, where I almost immediately conked. As it turns out, our timing was perfect, as a medical emergency resulted in a half hour lockdown of the entire wing of parties we had just left, which would have resulted in me falling asleep in a corner of the skepchicks room.
BTW: This programming event never happened. I swear.
11:30 PM: Guest of Honor Cage Match (Panelist(s): Patrick Rothfuss, Kelly McCullough, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Brian Keene, Joel Hodgson, Mary Jo Pehl, Dwayne McDuffie
CONvergence 2009 day 5 (Sun) Kelly’s Con Report
Yes, really, Day 5–this was a very long, very cool con.
We started the day off by hitting Perkins for breakfast with Anton who happened to be the first liaison we bumped into: “Hi Anton.” “Would you like to go out for breakfast?” “Yes.” “Let’s go.” Everyone should have liaisons.
After breakfast we made our way back to the convention and crafted a scavenger hunt for Jenn. No, really. Laura was doing some kids’ science programming and she needed 2 toilet paper rolls, a stack of 3×5 note cards, a cup of peanut M&Ms, a foam plate, and a couple of other things. So I called Jenn and asked if she was up for finding a list of strange items for Laura’s event, and not only was she up for it, she seemed pretty happy to have an actual challenge as part of her liaising. It took her just under half an hour.
While Laura was teaching science to the kidlets, I wandered off for a chat with my friend Karl, who I do not get to see very often, the exigencies of life and schedule being what they are. In the process I ended up providing another old friend with the final square on his nerd bingo card: “published science fiction author,” and having my picture taken with a very polite young fan (young being a relative term which I now apply to anyone under the apparent age of about 25).
Back at the kids programming room Karl got sucked into helping rearrange furniture and I bumped into the fan who picked up my old license plate and the copy of Weird Tales at the auction, and we chatted for a bit. Turns out he grew up a mile or two from where I’m now living. Then Laura was done and we were off to my interview.
Interview, for a con?
Yep. CONvergence does a video-taped interview with every GoH, usually as late as possible in the con so that they’ve had a chance to experience a good chunk of the con. I suspect it also helps to give the interviewer and interviewee some common ground beyond the GoH’s work. That latter wasn’t a problem with my interview since it was done by Tim Wick who (as was mentioned earlier) I have known since I was 6.
It was actually a lot of fun as Tim and I have crossed each others’ paths with varying degrees of contact on and off for 35 years now and it’s interesting to talk about the parallels and divergences. For example he got out of theater as a primary career in part for the same reasons I did–falling in love and realizing that theater and real relationships make for a really really hard mix to manage.
Apparently some of the notes we struck hit home for our camerawomen as well (another theater refugee) who said she had a real hard time not laughing so loud as to be heard on camera several times. I’m not sure if any portion of the interview will be available anywhere other than the CONvergence 2009 DVD, but if it is and you’re still curious about my rug-burned knees story, there’s a close up of the injury and an explanation in the interview.
The other thing the interview did for me was to help put the whole weekend in perspective since career perspective was part of the flow of conversation. The biggest component of that in regards to GoHing is, in retrospect, getting a sense of how much the work I do matters to readers. As much as I may make light of what I do, telling stories is important. It’s important enough that good stories change peoples lives. That’s why we have fandoms and cons and why people like me get the amazing opportunities we do to connect with readers, both through our work and through things like being invited to be a Guest of Honor at a convention or to read and sign our books.
At a big multi-media con like CONvergence my part of that is only a tiny sliver of what draws in fans, but it’s still important and that’s very very cool. It’s stunning and humbling as well. Enough so that if this writing thing ever takes off to the degree that Laura and I can afford that getaway place in Scotland, we’re naming it “Flabbergasted.”
After the interview I needed to head off to my final major piece of programming:
3:30 PM: The Twin Cities School (Panelist(s): Kelly McCullough, Hilary Moon Murphy, Michael Merriam, Ruth Berman
In which we talked about the Twin Cities writing scene: Whether there’s a distinct regional voice (no). Its history (deep and long). How you can be a part of it (write something). Why it’s so strong (incredible fan support has a huge amount to do with it). Etc. This was a fun, hopeful, panel to close out the con.
Jerry Pournelle was wrong
My next event was closing ceremonies where I was supposed to get up and say something about my experiences at the con when I was introduced. Here is approximately what I said:
“Jerry Pournelle was wrong. I’m a Writers of the Future winner, an event where they treat you amazingly well. So well in fact, that Jerry Pournelle told a bunch of us: ‘Enjoy this experience as much as you can, really soak it up because you will never ever in your writing careers be treated this well again.’ Jerry Pournelle was wrong. At CONvergence I was treated not just as well as I was treated at Writers of the Future. I was treated better. I’ve had an incredible experience here this weekend. Thank you all so much.”
Other random notes from closing ceremonies: I got a tribble. So did Laura. They were on all the GoH seats as well as scattered throughout the main stage seating. I got to see Dwayne hit a near life size picture of Wolverine with a cream pie, and Brian hit himself with another. Like opening ceremonies, these were handled expeditiously and professionally. I now know the ASL sign for ball–translated from the chanting of the crowd demanding the return of the beach balls we’d been batting around.
After closing ceremonies we went to Khan’s Mongolian Barbecue. “We” being the GoH’s and spouses, all or most of the liaisons, and some substantial chunk of the concom–something like 40 people in all. Dwayne had at least three fortune cookies because he couldn’t get an actual fortune, just platitudes. In fact, with two exceptions all we got were platitudes and only one of those exceptions was a fortune. The best non-conversation/company thing about Khan’s was the incredible care they took with Laura’s food, scrubbing out a separate cooker and having the manager cook her meal himself to make sure her food didn’t get contaminated with gluten from the house sauce. On her second go-round the manager went so far as to take her food away from her before she could eat it and to personally fill a new bowl and cook it for her because he realized that the cook he’d assigned the task had made a mistake with the sauce. Incredible service.
With our return to the hotel we headed for what had been con-suite and sat around with Brian, Jenn, and Lisa for a bit, noshing, chatting and drinking more of Brian’s bourbon. Since we were pretty beat, we decided to call it quits sooner rather than later and were actually about to head back to our room when Anton showed up and “very subtly*” suggested he’d really like it if we stayed around for just a bit longer. Then he went off and made a quick call. Okay, at this point we kind of guessed something was up, but even so I was totally stunned when Perrin showed up with a big blue box and handed me a beautiful glass award/sculpture thingie commemorating my stint as a GoH.
One of things about this con that I have to note here was the capacity of the people involved, both at the concom level and in terms of fans for surprising and delighting me. Every time I thought to myself, “well, that’s it, I’m so blown away that I can’t be blown any further” along would come someone or something else to make me that much more happily astonished.
Now, as you will remember, Laura and I had been on our way to bed before the trophies arrived. But of course we had to stay for Brian’s presentation. And then Dwayne and Charlotte showed up so we stayed for that (Pat was in his room asleep at this point but came out later after we had left). And then Perrin insisted that, if I was going to make happy sounds about Brian’s bourbon, I really ought to try some of the single-malt he was carrying for comparison and I would have been a very ungracious GoH to refuse that, right? But some hours later we finally did head for bed, where I did not pack before sleeping, which will amaze and shock those who know me well.
And then it was Monday and time to return to the real world, where I do not have liaisons eager to make sure that I get fed and caffeinated on a reasonable schedule, nor people lining up to get me to sign their books, or invite me to parties displaying murals of my characters.
And, yes, of course, I’m going back next year.
PICS OR IT DIDN’T HAPPEN
CONvergence 2009 (photo) post
Here are a few photos from my camera for con.
We got our new Smart car the day before the con
My badges…OMFFSM Chris Jones drew a
Connie/Melchior hybrid badge for me!
Did I mention OMFFSM? This rocks!
My schedule is on the kiosks…coooool…eeep.
Vilification tennis, in which
I get rug burn on my knees
OMFFSM it’s a life-size mural of my Furies!
Created by the folks at the MNPoly party
They also had someone (Jess Karels)
who was cross-playing Ravirn
A really cool raven mask—nothing
to do with my books, just cool
One of these women is my wife, one is one
of my guest liaisons. I managed not to grab
the wrong redhead during the convention,
but it was close a couple of times
My mother-in-law had the same problem
From the front the resemblance isn’t
_quite_ as strong, but wow
Finally, this was a complete surprise
and I was pretty much speechless
(not a normal condition for me, btw)
And that’s just skimming the visual surface. It was an incredible weekend.
(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog in multiple parts on July seventh, ninth, tenth, twelfth, fourteenth, and fifteenth, 2009, and original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)
I got home from my Guest of Honor appearance at ConClave 38 late last night and then went down hard for about 12 hours. I’ve now had a good long soak in the hot tub and some time to process a really fantastic con experience. So, here are my recollections in no particular order.
First, I had a great time, and I’d like to thank the whole ConCom for taking such good care of me. The whole process for this convention was super smooth for me, from the invite, through handing them off to my travel agent to make the plane arrangements, getting my schedule sorted, my pick up at the airport, the con itself, and my return to the airport and flight home. This is me in the official (not really) GoH wall niche, on Friday.
I had a total of nine programming items. That included a laid back meet and greet with hot beverages provided by the con and time to sit down and really chat with fans, which was lovely, and a reading + Q&A session where I read a bit of Drawn Blades and talked with folks about writing and the industry and my own work. My other seven items were part of the lit track panels and I got to have some great discussions about writing.
I’m not going to name all the folks I had fun with on programming, as I will inevitably forget someone, and I hate doing that, but should note here that I spent a lot of time paneling with M. Keaton who is an absolute delight as a panelist as well as the writer of an awful lot of published fiction. I also went to his children’s reading as several people told me I had to hear him read his short humorous story for children: Troll Snot. They were not wrong. It’s a fun story and the reading was a blast. I will note for the record that it’s criminal that no one has yet picked this story up for publication. It would go well in a magazine or antho focused on trolls or goblins, or as a stand alone illustrated children’s book. Someone, do something about that. There’s money to be made there, and I will cheerfully buy the first copy off the press.
Laura modeling the “I met Kelly McCullough at ConClave ribbons” they gave me to hand out.
Another highlight included a round of me learning just how badly out of practice I am with knife throwing, on Saturday night with the Sal Sanfrantello and some of the other folks at Aegis Consulting, who teach various sorts of western European martial arts. They gave me a lovely set of Aegis throwing gears and a fresh resolve to dig my old throwing knives out of the toy box and set up a target somewhere. I was quite good at it once upon a time back in the ’80s and early ’90s.
The program had one of my favorite pictures of me and Laura on it as the centerpiece—taken a couple of years ago by the marvelous Matt Kuchta—with the covers of my first ten novels flanking, which was cool and surreal. Hey, look, I’m on the cover of a con program! How the hell did that happen? Also, my first ten novels…I don’t even. I lead a rather surreal life these days. Basically, I’ve grown up to be pretty much exactly what nine year old me would have wanted me to grow up to be. Well, inasmuch as I’ve grown up. I am incredibly fortunate. Thanks to Jennifer Dye for the cover and for all the cool stuff on the interior including box quotes from a number of my books scattered throughout.
I got to indulge my inner magpie at Amber Fox Jewelry in the dealers room where I picked up two sets of stud earrings in amber and two in jet—I’ve four pierces on the left side. We also got a tiny and adorable knitted xmas cthulhu. I only briefly got to chat with Tom Barber who ran the dealers room and had all of my books ready to sign at the first available opportunity.
I met a bunch of enthusiastic fans and made a few new ones. That included a really lovely and ego boosting chat with some folks from the Dorsai Irregulars.
I didn’t get to see any of what the folks from the Intrigue Factory were doing, but it all looked like a lot of fun and I did get to do a group photo with them after not closing ceremonies. I would love to bump into them again at a con somewhere when I have a bit more time. Oh, and that’s Con Chair Jody Harrow there to my right in the teeshirt with the silver image on the front.
Sue Stahl, who ran programming, was great at getting me the programming I wanted and not overloading me. Thanks also to her and her husband who played chauffeur for us coming and going.
The few times I made into the con suite, Susan Harris and Patricia Altergott were wonderful hosts.
An enormous and entertaining man who goes by the name of Ox very politely kissed the top of my head—for luck I think.
I signed about a zillion books, a couple of badges, and at least one book plate.
There was a big shiny gift basket waiting for us in the room when we checked in.
We missed the Regency dancing due to schedule conflicts and much to Laura’s dismay.
I got a shiny polychromatic GoH ribbon for my badge.
And a ConClave GoH mug that is now up on the shelf with my CONvergence GoH trophy—not the skull, that’s unrelated bric-a-brac.
An incredibly sweet woman named Kimba (last name unknown) adopted Laura as a celiac buddy and kept her plied with all kinds of gluten free goodies while she was off grading and being a G0H con widow.
I’d like to give special thanks to Jody Harrow the con chair, who kept taking time out from the usual chair job of solving all of everybody’s problems to make extra sure that I was all right and that Laura was getting fed properly—always a concern with her celiac issues. On that front Jody arranged a special sit down with the hotel chef, Guillermo (I think—I’m terrible with names) who kept good track of us and had special cards made up for Laura to give the staff whenever she ate in the hotel restaurant. I only got to chat with Jody a few times given our mutual schedules but I had fun when we did.
On the way home we stopped and took some video of the super fancy fountain in the Detroit airport. You can’t see it here, but the water projectors do a pulsed release thing that sent discrete packets of water moving around in an intricate pattern.
Also at the airport, we stopped at the Irish pub for dinner and drink. Jameson for me Strongbow for my lovely spouse.
And I think that’s all I’ve got for now, but I reserve the right to add things later as they occur. I will inevitably have forgotten to thank someone I ought or note something really cool that I got to do, because I am terrible that way. My apologies if the cool or wonderful person I forgot was you.
First P.S. I forgot the tee-shirt… If you ever wanted a tee-shirt featuring me, this may be your one and only chance…
That’s sooooo surreal…
I will be Guest of Honor at ConClave 38 in Detroit October 10-12.
Friday July 5, 2013 7:00pm – 8:00pm, Room 2201
Kelly McCullough will be available to read work from his newest book (actually, I’ll probably read from the next one). Panelists: Kelly McCullough.
Saturday July 6, 2013 2:00pm – 3:00pm, Sofitel Bordeaux
A discussion about how writing styles change when one is writing in different formats. How do you adjust? What is the same? Panelists: Rob Callahan, Sean E. Williams, James Moran, Kelly McCullough, Roy C Booth