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Category: wordcraft

Con Report: ConCarolinas 2023

There’s something wonderfully invigorating about con, the freewheeling friendly atmosphere and hobnobbing with one’s fellow wizards, surrounded by people who get the crazy fun stuff that fascinates you even when the mundane world says, “Huh?”
Who knew this many people can fit in a hotel room?
ConCarolinas is very much a writers’ con. There’s also a film festival, paranormal circuit and gaming track, among others, but since I didn’t interact with those, I couldn’t say how valuable they are. The writers’ track, however, has some truly useful and interesting panels, and hot and cold running writers everywhere.

I shared my table with Rachel Brune, my editor at Crone Girls Press and newly minted acquisitions editor for Falstaff Books’ new horror imprint, Falstaff Dread. Rachel and I go waaaaaay back to the early 2000s and our mutual membership in the Sarah Connor Charm School, and it’s always a delight to see her.


There was plenty of discussion of representation in horror, of A.I. and its implications for creatives, of the surge in book banning, the implications of the WGA strike, of various esoteric topics from cryptobiology to warding off evil spirits that could be useful for speculative fiction research. As usual, I only got to attend a fraction of the panels that interested me, as I was working.
My first round was a 9 a.m. panel (because obviously I have angered someone) on trunk novels and other work that will never see daylight. My buddy Jeff Strand and I were on this one. We talked about those early (and not-so-early) works that were, shall we say, learning experiences.
Naturally, I talked about Sanctuary, as an example of a trunk novel that stays in the trunk because of an internal factor – i.e. I believe it’s not good enough to be released. At the time, I trunked it because I knew I was not a good enough writer to tell that story in the manner it deserved. And I think this was the first time I have talked about the sequel, which I wrote sometime around 2001-02 exploring my idea of an interstellar Underground Railroad. This was a very ambitious novel attempted by a twentysomething baby writer who had no idea what she was doing, and had the audacity to think this was her story to tell. I am so glad Amazon KDP did not exist back then.
I still love that universe, and a couple of short stories have made their way to publication based in it. I sometimes wonder if now I am a good enough writer to do those novels justice, and the novels I have outlined to follow them. But for now, it’s trunked.
That’s an example of a novel trunked for an internal reason. External reasons, for example, might be a novel that you feel is strong and powerful, but others have told you it sucks, or now is not the right time for it, or it’s been rejected too many times, etc. There are times when those external factors might be overcome with tenacity, better timing, or reevaluating your approach.
Next up was “what to do after finishing your book,” which I was delighted to discuss with Gabino Iglesias, Gail Z. Martin and others. Some of you know I have a whole two-hour workshop about what you do after you write The End, so naturally I had plenty of things to say. In fact, I think I’m doing that workshop solo at Imaginarium next month, if you’re planning to join us in Louisville.
I really enjoyed some of Gabino’s anecdotes, and so I picked up his Coyote Songs – alas, too late to snag his autograph. Next time!
This was followed by “body shape as the last frontier,” which allowed me to discuss with a friendly audience some of the prejudices we see particularly as women of size. I’ve written before that I see a significant difference in how I am treated in various professional capacities as I grew older and rounder and became disabled. The conversation was very honest, discussing not only weight but male-gaze objectification, disability, race, gender presentation and the body image issues faced by men as well. We could have talked for another two hours on these issues.
This also allowed me to put on my Media Studies Masters hat and talk about cultivation theory for why this issue is important beyond making us feel better about ourselves: what we see in our media tends to impact our impressions of real life. If we see umpteen images of a fat person obsessed with food and gobbling sweets every time she passes the buffet, we will assume that every person of size is that way because they can’t control their eating. (And I delete a rant, but there’s a column in my future on this topic.)
Finally, I got to put on my MFA hat for “Vaguely Based on the Title of the Novel,” a discussion of film adaptations both good and nauseating. Having just finished an entire semester studying adaptation theory, I was the Annoying Academic of the panel. Unlike several of my fellow panelists (Jeff again!) I have never had a work optioned for the screen and while I have written a screenplay for a short film, it’s never been considered by anyone. Thus I presume my academic studies and my work as a film critic were the reasons for putting me on the panel.
Other panels I had to miss included writing morally gray characters, misogyny in romance, avoiding scams in publishing, writing an alternate history, developing a magic system, the author/editor relationship and much, much more. For beginning writers, I can strongly recommend the programming at ConCarolinas for an excellent three-day tutorial.
Because I flew to Charlotte for the con, Rachel collected booze, and so the Literary Underworld (Mini)Bar was open both nights to a full house. Not too shabby a collection for castoffs! Perhaps next year I’ll be able to drive, and Jim and I can bring the full Traveling Bar.
I had a wonderful time in Charlotte (though unfortunately did not get to see anything of the city itself), and learned a great deal as well as connecting with old friends and new. I was delighted to clap for Nancy Knight, writing track director for Dragoncon; and author Nicole Givens Kurtz, who each received lifetime achievement awards from the convention.
Me and Ari!
Also, the media guest of honor was Ari Lehman, the actor who played Jason Voorhees in the first Friday the 13th movie. He’s now a punk rocker (his band name is First Jason) and a big proponent of the Jason film series. My son was madly texting me during opening ceremonies because as a film nerd, he’s a big fan and asked me to tell Ari he really appreciated all that he’d done for the franchise even after he was finished with the role.
I happened to catch Ari right after opening ceremonies, and not only did he offer a selfie, he asked to record a brief video for my son, addressing him by name. I am now Mom of the Year, and Ian was delighted.


I share this because we hear so many stories about actors and other performers being selfish shitheels or egotists, and I think people deserve to get kudos when they take the extra step to thrill a fan. 

Now home, for the next leg of the summer travel: PARIS. I’ll be doing a daily travelogue from the City of Lights for

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In which I talk in symbols….


Not those.

Sean Taylor runs a blog titled Bad Girls, Good Guys, and Two-Fisted Action. Despite the title, it is not a sausage fest, nor is it solely focused on crime/noir/genre fiction. It’s one of the best, most thoughtful writing blogs out there, and one that doesn’t get enough attention.

I’m happy to be part of today’s writer roundup, in which we discuss symbolism from the perspective of the writer. While we can all find symbolism in what we read, whether intended by the author or not, how do we approach the use of symbolism as writers? It’s “the curtains are fucking blue” argument, that frequently we seek out a reflection of what we already believe in our fiction, while the author may simply have chosen blue for the curtains because that’s what he saw in his mind’s eye. Is symbolism in the eye of the beholder, or is it an intentional commentary on This Modern Life? Or something in between?

As an MFA student, finding symbols is kind of our stock in trade. Where would we be without dissecting the true meaning of the letter opener on the table or the broken wine goblet? And then there’s what Hemingway allegedly said:

Check out what Sean’s latest author roundtable had to say about symbolism, including me. What is your take on it?

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