Of all events to go to that I associate with writing, this is my personal favorite. Each of the panels are about the subject of: Sci-Fi / Fantasy / Horror, and all the subjects that can possibly be related to those three, like: gaming, books, movies, fashion, music, etc. It’s also the oldest convention for these subjects in American history, the first one being in 1936.
This year the PhilCon took place on the weekend of November 9-11. As always, I wish I could have gone to more of the panels. Some of those I went to I have summarized below. Being an aspiring author, I tend to lean toward panels that explain the industry to me, usually from a writer or editor’s point of view.
Panel: Lovecraft and his Successors.
Panelists: John Ashmeade, Marvin Kaye, A.C. Wise, Darrell Schweitzer
The rights for Weird Tales, the publication known to many of Lovecraft’s readers was acquired by Marvin Kaye (one of the panelists). I’ve been a fan of H.P. Lovecraft for a long time and it’s good to see fans of Lovecraft take care like this.
Many authors names were thrown around as the discussion got into finding out who were writing in either a Lovecraftian style or actually keeping the Cthulhu Mythos alive in their stories.
The general consensus has Brian Lumley being THE successor, which gives me great joy to hear because I’ve always been a big fan of his and have many of his books on the Mythos.
Titles to read that came too fast: Book Of Cthulhu, Engines of Desire, The Rise & Fall of the Cthulhu Mythos, Cthulhu’s Reign, Black wings of Cthulhu, Tales of the Miskatonic University Library, and those I couldn’t catch fast enough.
A Study in Emerald, by Neil Gaimon was discussed regarding it’s Lovecraftian style, and it was pointed out that a prequel to Jersalem’s Lot (Salem’s Lot) by Steven King was very Lovecraftian. John Carpenter has gone on record that he was very influenced by Lovecraft when he did Alien.
To write like Lovecraft did, with his vision, was discussed. Firstly, one has to understand what it’s like to stare into the abyss, and you write about what happens when the abyss stares back at you. That “picture of millions” that we get from the Hubbel telescope nowadays, is what Lovecraft was contemplating without the benefit of seeing it.
He wrote about themes that we dwell on deep inside. He touches upon them, and lets our imagination do the rest.
A point was made that for anyone today to want to write in the Mythos: if you’re just starting out, wait. Become a mature writer first. Come back and then extend Lovecraft’s themes. Another point: Lovecraft’s work was designed to be read out loud. His style is such that his prose is like poetry. There’s a rhythm to it.
To succeed Lovecraft, you will want to do all of these things.
Panel: Punk Punk
Panelists: Patricia Wake, A.C. Wise, Eric Avedissian, Brian Thomas
This panel was about trying to make some sense of the various steampunk influenced genres, and their crazy names nowadays.
Steampunk is actually not even the original. The first genre was punk, as in punk rock in music. For literature, it was cyberpunk. My feeling is that this is what you get when you combine sci-fi with punk rock. The anti-revolutionary attitude (and the characters) of the punk rock movement in a sci-fi setting. Granted, there are many, many debates on this topic. It was clear that that’s part of what this panel was put together for. Everybody has an opinion on all these genres.
That said, it was cyberpunk first. Then came steampunk, which is (initially) basically taking that same do-it-yourself attitude to better your world and replacing the hi-tech setting of sci-fi with the Victorian Age. It’s still sci-fi, but with the steam engine instead of integrated circuits.
It’s a very, very bountiful subject. Others thought so, too. Some of the genre names that are popping up: sandalpunk: the time of the Roman Empire, candlepunk: medieval times, etc. Some names that were thrown about quickly: nukepunk, fairypunk, dieselpunk, and even punkpunk although other than dieselpunk, most of these are not that popular (at least not a lot of time was spent on discussing them).
From a writer’s point of view, it’s neat to look at what you can do with this. Having anti-consumerish characters with a do-it-yourself approach of making what they need, and just placing them in the setting you want to write in. Steampunk has been placed in the Civil War era, in a western (sci-fi and westerns have always been good fitting models), and can be anywhere you want to write in.
Panel: What the editors want
Panelists: Gordon Linzner, Neil Clarke, Bill Olver, Marvin Kaye, Danielle Ackley-McPhail
There’s a lot of good writing and reading to be done nowadays in anthologies. It’s a thriving business for a writer to get their work established. Many anthologies are often based on a theme you have to write around, and often the theme is very strict. It’s good to read anthologies with this in mind.
As the panelists were all editors, some of what they had to say was very interesting. For example, one said “send me anything interesting”. That tells me to not confine yourself too much as a writer. Write within the theme and structure you need to, but let yourself go, too. The editors see so much repeat, they want to see something different sometimes.
All want good characters beneath the genre elements and themes. Short stories are between 1000 and 8000 words. Don’t go 1 word more or less or it’s automatic rejection. The sweet spot seems to be between 5000 and 7000 words.
Things to stay away from: violence against children, violence for no point, (speaking of violence) beating your subject or part of it to death, etc. It was pointed out that submission requirements are an absolute must to follow to the letter, and don’t forget to give your contact information. Some like a little summary first even if it’s an online submission.
Persistence is a requirement, not talent. You need it, get it done. Shoe-horning your story is usually not a good idea, because you’ll take the life out of it.
And of course, tantrums during feedback aren’t very likely to enhance your future experiences. Editors can tell stories, too.