Thursday, October 9, 2014

SFWA Reception and Temple University, or A Tale of Two Cities

Events conspire to keep me busy, it seems.  This past weekend led up to the SFWA reception in NYC, which is a "must attend" event for me.  That usually ends up turning into an entire day wandering around Manhattan, either on my own or meeting up with a friend or two.  This year, my daughter is a freshman at Temple University in Philly and, as luck would have it, she asked if I could pick her up and bring her home for the long Columbus Day weekend.  So, within a period of less than a week, I'll be bouncing from NYC to home to Philly.  Makes me feel all cosmopolitan!

First, the SFWA trip.  It's hard to believe that I'm getting to be an old hand at these things, but when I walk in the door and Bud Sparhawk immediately congratulates me for my latest Analog story, I guess I can't claim to be a noob any more.  This year, I met my friend Jamie Todd Rubin in the city around noon and we hung out and talked over lunch and a couple of microbrews, walked the Highline, and then grabbed a couple more microbrews.

Each reception ends up having a different feel, at least for me.  Last year I spent most of the night with the same group of people; this year I bounced from one person to the next, engaging in conversation before moving on to see who else I might bump into.  I spent some time with the usual suspects--Jamie, Bud, Trevor, and Emily--and met some interesting new people.  Trevor introduced me to Tom Purdom and I chatted with him for a while.  My friend Siobhan Carroll was there this year and we had a chance to catch up a bit.  Steven Gould introduced himself and someone managed to snap a picture of the two of us together.  I guess I can ride his photographic coattails for a bit!

I talked to too many people to list here, each with fascinating things to say.  All too soon, it was time to ride the elevator down to street level and make my way back to the PABT to catch the last bus home.  All in all, it was another enjoyable day in NYC.  Funny thing is, for all the time I've spent in the city over the last few years, I've never done a lot of the touristy stuff like riding to the top of the Empire State Building.  I think I need to find a day to take my daughter into the city and show her around, which will give me an excuse to get all the tourist things under my belt!

For now, it's back to school for a few days, then I drive down to Philly to pick my daughter up from Temple for the long weekend.  She and her roommate both come from the same town, so I'll drive them both home and the roommate's mom will drive them back.  We usually stop for dinner on the way back from the city.  Last time I picked them up, they wanted McDonalds,  Hopefully this time I can talk them into getting something with a bit more Philly flair!

It's nice to live within easy travel distance of two major cities, each with its own unique character.  A steak sandwich in NYC means something very different from a steak sandwich in Philly, and I'm pretty sure wars have been fought over it.  It's nice, but it also involves a lot of travel time.  Lately I've taken to listening to audio books to pass the time.  Between trips to work and to major cities, I've worked my way through three novels since the beginning of September and I've just started to tackle Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy.  Yeah, that should cover a few trips!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Book Signing

A while back, Trevor asked me if I would be interested in coming to the Brooklyn Book Festival to sign some issues of Analog at the Dell Magazines table.  Me?  Signing books?  Like actual autographs?  My handwriting is barely legible!  Besides, does anyone other than a handful of hardcore SF fans even know who I am?

I agreed to go and Emily, associate editor for Dell Magazines, set me up for the 1:00 - 2:00 hour.  I arrived at the book festival early so that I could look around a bit and get my bearings.  I ended up hanging with the Analog/Asimov's crew for a half hour or so before my scheduled signing.  Asimov's author Jay O'Connell was scheduled to sign immediately after me.  He arrived early and we spent some time chatting.  When 1:00 came, Emily set me up at the table with a pen and a stack of Analog issues, and we were off!  For what it's worth, the very first person to pick up an issue got a caption reading, "You have my first autograph."  On the off chance that I somehow become famous, that guy might get a few bucks out of it!

At one point, a group of girls in their early teens stopped by to chat enthusiastically with Emily, Jay, and I.  They love SF and were thrilled to get our autographs.  Watching them fangirl over my signature was a surreal experience, to say the least.  Mostly, though, it was rather calm, with people stopping to pick up their issues of the magazines and chat politely for a minute or so.  Dell also publishes mystery magazines, and it seemed that there were more fans of mystery than SF at the festival.  All in all, it was pleasant and not nearly as stressful as I had thought it might be.

After my signing, Sheila arrived and took over the reins from Trevor.  He took Emily and I to lunch at a nice barbecue place nearby which served a delicious beef brisket barbecue.  We talked for a while over our lunch, mostly sticking to SF industry talk.  After lunch we went back to the Dell table, where I had the opportunity to talk to Sheila for a while.  Soon, it was time to go.  It was a nice afternoon, so I strolled around Manhattan for a while before heading back to the Port Authority Bus Terminal for the ride back home.

All in all, it was a pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon.  I'll be back in NYC in a couple of weeks for the SFWA reception.  I can't wait!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

SFWA Politics--Why I Signed the Petition

I generally make it a point to avoid politics because discussions of hot-button issues often degenerate into anger and name-calling, and ultimately no one really changes anyone's mind.  In these polarized times, a writer risks alienating half his audience by coming out in support of a particular liberal or conservative view.  I'm not saying that writers should never discuss their personal politics, by any means.  Brad Torgersen is quite vocal about his right-leaning politics, Juliette Wade often speaks her mind about left-leaning causes, and I consider both to be my friend.  I admire both for their passion for their core beliefs.  But political activity is not the right approach for me, and I apply that philosophy to both national politics and the internal politics of SFWA.

So why did I sign Dave Truesdale's petition?  For those not tuned into SFWA politics, the organization puts out a publication called The Bulletin.  A while back, a particular issue of The Bulletin was considered degrading toward women because of two things--the cover image of a scantily clad woman reminiscent of old pulp covers, and an article by Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg referring to a particular female editor as beautiful.  I didn't think anything of the issue when I read it, but others did and were outraged.  The resulting kerfluffle led to the ouster of Resnick, Malzberg, and the editor of The Bulletin.  SFWA suspended the publication and is in the process of revamping it, this time with an "advisory panel" that many think will become a de facto censorship panel that will eliminate any ideas that are not in line with the "correct" way of thinking.  Dave Truesdale posted a petition asking Steven Gould, president of SFWA, to reconsider the perceived censorship of The Bulletin.  As expected, people came out with strong opinions on both sides of the issue.

Personally, I'd prefer SFWA to focus it's energies on the business of writing itself and stay away from politics.  Writers are an intelligent, creative, and opinionated lot, though, and so political activism will always be with us.  But at the moment, one side of the political spectrum holds the vast majority of the power within the organization and that is the kind of situation where we all need to be most vigilant.  If we can't keep politics out, at least we can allow publications like The Bulletin to be a forum for a variety of opinions.  I see the potential for a highly vocal faction, perhaps a rather large faction, to silence any dissent.  Already, quite a few members with opposing politics have elected to let their memberships lapse, and that's sad.  SFWA is a wonderful organization and should be a comfortable place for all professional writers, not just those who hold the majority opinion.

Was the cover of The Bulletin offensive?  Were Resnick's and Malzberg's comments misogynistic?  I didn't think so when I read the issue, and I still fail to see the offense.  But others did take offense, and their opinion is valid too.  Rather than fire two of the genre's greats in response to that offense, it would have been better to invite those who were offended to submit articles putting their point of view out there.  The Bulletin could have become a forum for the issue, allowing both sides to defend their positions, and letting the readers decide who is right.  The editor's role would be to act as a neutral referee of sorts, selecting the best articles on all sides of important issues.  I'm not calling for a free-for-all as some on the other side of the issue have suggested; I'm saying trust the editor to select articles that tastefully present their point of view without name-calling or the like.  Yeah, there would be plenty of judgement calls, but that's what editors do all the time.  It's  a matter of intellectual freedom, and a panel of overseers just strikes me as a move in the wrong direction.

Note that I'm not saying that people don't have the right to be offended by the Resnick/Malzberg article; I'm saying that Resnick and Malzberg have the right to offend them.  Whether their attitudes toward women were right or wrong  is not the issue here.  Their speech was unpopular, and unpopular speech is the most important kind to defend.  And writers, of all people, should agree on that.