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April 25, 2005

My Daddy Went to Penguicon and All I Got Was This Massive Copyright Violation


There's actually an interesting backstory to this t-shirt, which is that over the weekend I called home and Krissy said that when she asked Athena what she wanted to do while I was away, Athena said that she wanted to have them dress up like goths. She's a real live Kindergoth! Isn't that precious. So I saw this shirt in the dealer's room and had to have it. Athena's wearing it to school today, complete with black fingernail polish. It's even money I get a call from the school office.

Penguicon: It went well. I was scheduled for four panels and ended up actually doing six, the two I added being "Dancing for Geeks" -- hey, shut up, I took two years of dance -- and the Penguicon writers workshop. For the former we taught folks how to find the beat and then move their feet in something other than an awkward shuffle, and it went well, I thought. For the second one, I did my editor bit and read seven stories that were being workshopped, pretended that they had actually been submitted to me for publication and then told the workshoppers why I rejected their work. As being rejected is as much a part of the publishing process as being accepted, I thought that was useful, and by and large I think the people in the workshop agreed, although, of course, I may be wrong on that. There was one writer whose story I barely read out of the first page because there was an error I just couldn't get past -- I explained what the error was and how this was an example of how some editors have weird little tics you can't predict, and this was one of mine -- and I can't imagine that particular writer was very pleased with me. Still and all, overall I think it went well.

The panels I was supposed to be on went well too, in a general sense. Cory Doctorow (who was the Guest of Honor), Matt Arnold and I had a very successful panel doing a blue-sky on what would be involved in writing collaborative online fiction; my thought about it would be that doing something like a wiki-story is entirely possible but that people were more likely to be touchy to changes in personal creative writing than changes to, say, an article in Wikipedia, and that since the writing would be a public performance, there could be a possibility of the story getting derailed as people simply started to try to top each other. Cory, who did an online collaborative fiction piece with Charlie Stross, talked a little about that experience as well.

Then came the panel on "The Blog and Its Uses": This had me, online cartoonist Howard Tayler, and David Klecha, who had blogged from Iraq. Howard and I talked quite a bit about how blogging has made a difference in our professional lives while David talked more about how it works on a personal level (particularly in terms of communicating from a war zone). They taped this one for posterity, so who knows -- you might be able to hear it online someday. This was followed by the "How Do Writers Pay Their Bills?" panel, in which we (me, Joan Vinge, Kevin Siembieda, M. Keaton and Kathe Koja) talked about day jobs and our opinions of them, and also about the generally bad pay of creative writing (as opposed to corporate writing, which pays rather better but is of course generally far less creative). This one was also taped.

My final panel was on "The Future of Science Fiction," which given some commentary here recently, was on point. To be entirely honest, I think a great deal of the future of science fiction -- the written portion of it, at least -- will rely on its marketing, and I mentioned that at the panel. M. Keaton who was also there (as well as Joan Vinge, Tim Ryan and Jeff Beeler) also talked about the need for a rebirth of the "pulp" strata of science fiction to serve as "minor league ball" as it were, to novels and some of the higher end magazines, which I thought was an interesting point. Overall, I thought the panels were well done; a couple of panelists would lose their mental and narrative thread in the midst of speaking and would then wander a bit aimlessly before getting back on point, but I suppose to some extent that's inevitable. By and large, however, generally informative. My panel pace at the con kept me from seeing many of the other panels, although I did pop in on Cory's panel on folk art and copyright as well as his keynote address on Digital Rights Management.

I also got to spend some time with Cory, meet his smashing girlfriend (whose first convention this was; I'm sure she found it interesting), and gab with him about a bunch of stuff. Cory is on his way to Chicago next week for the Nebula Awards, as his novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is nominated; I'm not going to that so I was happy to to get some time to gab with him here. Cory's guest liaison was Anne KG Murphy, who I met earlier this year at ConFusion (she was the convention chair there), so it was great to see her again as well (it was she who dragooned me into teaching geeks to dance, since she'd seen me dance at ConFusion). Anne also played Buffy in a live-action re-enactment of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer musical episode "Once More With Feeling"; the presentation was both interesting and something that I later had a really interesting time trying to explain to a couple of nongeeks ("So... they were watching the episode and re-enacting it at the same time? Why?").

So in all, a grand time. The only drawback for me was the fact that there was a freak snowstorm on Saturday and Sunday in which I had to drive home; I managed to make it home just fine under the concept that making it home was better than trying to get home fast. But I can't hold that against the Penguicon people. They have no control over the weather, so far as I know.

Posted by john at April 25, 2005 08:18 AM

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Tripp | April 25, 2005 09:20 AM

an example of how some editors have weird little tics you can't predict, and this was one of mine

So are you going to tell us what the tic is, or are you just one big old tease?

Jon Hansen | April 25, 2005 09:23 AM

It's true. Since we'll be sending you stuff, we need to know these things.

Tripp | April 25, 2005 09:28 AM

Ease your mind that I won't be sending you stuff, but I am curious.

Or, maybe you can have a blog contest where we guess?

Yes! How about THAT idea.

John Scalzi | April 25, 2005 09:38 AM

"So are you going to tell us what the tic is, or are you just one big old tease?"

I'll be a tease! Bwa ha ha hah ha ha!

The tic is simply about accuracy: If you are noting something in a realistic fashion, make sure your facts are correct. This one writer has a physical astronomical object having an event it could not physically have, but was not using that event as an integral story part -- it was just factually in error, and a large enough error that it threw me out of the story and I had difficulty re-entering. Since I was approaching the reading as if I had several hundred other submissions to read (i.e., like I was actually reading for a magazine), I decided I wasn't going to go any further.

This particular tic will be somewhat suppressed for the Big Honkin' SF Cliche theme -- for example, if someone writes about Mars having canals, or moons made from cheese or whatever, that'll be groovy with me -- but if I was doing more general SF magazine reading, it's something that would bug me.

GSLamb | April 25, 2005 10:57 AM

Once again, we at Penguicon apologize for the bad weather. After further study, it appeared to be the work of one of the "computer junkpile wars" entries: while it could not boot up to Linux, it did alter weather patterns across the midwest.

We do not, however, apologize for hijacking you to the writer's workshop. Everyone who attended it (espescially the writers) learned a lot from it.

That is all. (Unitarian Jihad member "Nailgun of Sweet Reason")

Dean | April 25, 2005 11:55 AM

Apparently, the API for The Weather is still in a beta-like state, but will be available to developers Real Soon Now.

Dennis | April 25, 2005 01:13 PM

I'm glad you had a chance to meet Howard Taylor. I've been reading Schlock Mercenary for years and I knew it would be right up your alley.

Jeff Zugale | April 25, 2005 03:12 PM

I just want to pop in and say huge thanks for linking to Kindergoth... because I'm the artist who drew issues 1-4! I'm kinda boggling here... and blushing. That just makes my day, John, muchas gracias! :D

BTW, Athena is wearing the "PowerGoth Girls" parody t-shirt, with which neither I nor Bloodfire Studios have no involvement whatsoever (though we think it's very cool.)

Free comics coming your way, John! :) Pardon my giddy gushing...

And I agree, Howard Tayler is a very cool guy, love his webcomic.

(Shameless Self Promotion follows) If anyone's interested, I have more comics 'n' stuff at http://www.pagancity.com and http://www.starshipwright.com

Thanks again! :)

Lavinia | April 25, 2005 04:42 PM

Man, your kid is flippin' adorable. And no, I'm not a weirdo freak paying unnatural attention to your daughter - I'm just the mom of another flippin' adorable young child (mine's 3 and a boy), and it tickles me to see other ones out there. Thanks to Athena for being willing to pose!

Kafkaesquí | April 25, 2005 08:37 PM

Somehow the idea of goth and a gothic cathedral backdrop just don't seem to work together as probably was intended.

John Scalzi | April 25, 2005 08:43 PM

Everyone's a critic.

Dave | April 25, 2005 09:26 PM

John, if you're so tempted at some point (and I know I'm late for Reader Request Week), I'd love to read a "Scalzi's Newbie Guide to Cons". I'd like to attend a few, but I worry that I won't get the most out of it.

John Scalzi | April 25, 2005 09:47 PM

I'll give it some thought, Dave, especially as Krissy will be going to her first con soon.

Fvincent | April 25, 2005 10:02 PM


I started a group writing project with some friends in February using MediaWiki. You can find it here: www.meanderingly.com. It's not the usual narrative form but it uses the medium in a way I found interesting.

I think this medium has a lot of untapped storytelling potential.

Will | April 25, 2005 10:56 PM

Since we already have shameless promotion in this thread I figure the shirt people deserve a plug. http://www.offworlddesigns.com/

The shirt can be found under "Goth Designs".

Mitch Wagner | April 26, 2005 01:14 AM

Glad you mentioned the freak snowstorms, me bucko. I have my alarm clock radio set on NPR, and, when it woke me up the other day I thought I heard, "Heavy snows in northern Ohio.... " before I hit the snooze button and off to slumberland. When I woke up fully, I said to myself, "Huh? Heavy snows in Ohio? In the last days of April?" But, of course, that is possible, so I meant to check on Google News. Or call the in-laws. But I didn't remember. And now I know.

And I'm not some weirdo freak blog-stalker, paying attention to the weather in your part of the country — my in-laws live in Ohio, so I have a personal reason to care about things that happen in Ohio.

Well, actually, I am a weirdo freak. But I'm not stalking you. And, no, I haven't been stealing your underwear, how can you even suggest such a thing?

My other Weird NPR Ohio Connection was the time I heard a reference to rioting in Athens, Ohio, which is where my sister-in-law lives with her family. We called her to see if she was huddling in her basement against he marauding mobs. She told us, nah, it's just the frat-boys rioting about some restrictive drinking laws, feeling unfairly deprived of their constitutional right to consume themselves into alcoholic comas. Nothing to worry about. Happens all the time.

Tripp | April 26, 2005 09:05 AM

Regarding the weather - we here in Minnesota are a little concerned that OUR snow has been falling south of here this last year. We all thought global warming would move the snow North, not South, or Southeast. So enjoy it and all, but please send it back next year, okay?

Nicole | April 26, 2005 09:10 AM

Ah, that takes me back. Gotta love my alma mater. At Ohio U, what brings the rioting students out like nothing else? When the time changes in the spring and the bars close early.

Athena may just be the coolest kid in the world. Black nail polish? Excellent!

Rob | April 26, 2005 11:01 AM

Penguicon was great! I really enjoyed meeting you and the panels on "How writers pay the bills" and "The future of SF." Hope to see you there again next year.


Mitch Wagner | April 26, 2005 03:45 PM

Nicole - Did you go to college in Athens? It's a sweet little town.

I always get my Ohio state colleges and universities confused. One is in Columbus, one is in Athens, and there are probably others elsewhere, too.

rennie | April 27, 2005 12:40 AM

Hi there.... it was fun dancing with ya on saturday! Hope to do it again sometime.

John Scalzi | April 27, 2005 10:05 AM

Hi, Rennie! Yes, you dance divinely and indeed, we will do that again.

Bernie B | April 28, 2005 12:00 AM


I was the one non-writer at the workshop and just wanted to note that I enjoyed your commentary immensely. Recently reading a book by a very well known fantasy author, I'd experienced that feeling of being totally thrown out of the book due to an oddity. Specifically there is a scene where the main character is enjoying a fine meal off of china. China? wtf!!

If penguicon is smart (SMRT) they should try to nab you as an official Guest next year.

Jim | April 28, 2005 10:34 AM

I just wanted to stick in a plug for OffWorld Designs. I thought that PowerGoth Girls t-shirt was really cool and that it would make a good gift for my daughter's birthday (a bit older than Athena, she will be 23 in a couple of weeks) so I followed the link that an earlier commenter had provided -- http://www.offworlddesigns.com/ -- and ordered a shirt. While looking around their site, I saw a number of different shirts in their clearance sale area that I thought she would like so I tossed one of them in my cyber-shopping cart also.

They e-mailed me to say they had run out of that clearance sale shirt in the size I'd requested and would I like a different size, a different shirt, or to cancel that part of my order... and also noting that, regardless, the PowerGoth Girls shirt would be shipping soon. I replied that any of a list of four or five other clearance sale shirts would do. Within half an hour or less I received a very nice reply telling me which shirt would replace the out-of-stock one in my order.

Very nice people to do business with... and they have some neat shirts.

M'jit Raindancer-Stahl | May 1, 2005 06:04 PM

There was one writer whose story I barely read out of the first page because there was an error I just couldn't get past -- I explained what the error was and how this was an example of how some editors have weird little tics you can't predict, and this was one of mine -- and I can't imagine that particular writer was very pleased with me. Still and all, overall I think it went well.

Actually, I was very happy that you treated my story that way. Although I was tempted to rip that page out and beg you to take another look. ;>

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