Posted by: Matt Q. McGovern | November 13, 2013

PhilCon 76 – 2013, part 2

As I say every year, I’m happy to have attended this years PhilCon but sad that it’s over.  What started out for me over ten years ago was a social event.  While it’s still very much a social event, the PhilCon means more to me on the subject of writing than anything else.

When I’m there, I feel surrounded by writing on all sides.  The panels I attend are mostly run by writers, and the product of writers is what creates the need for a convention like the PhilCon.  The book dealing room is a powerful magnet to me, both for meeting friends as well as my annual book buying spree.

Also, the conversations to be had with writers and editors are a great way to network, even if it’s just social.  New friendships are made all the time, and there’s always the potential for a future business relationship.

Here is a listing of some of the panels I attended with a little summary of the ensuing discussion.

Sympathy for the Devil (Dina Leacock (moderator), Jay Smith, April Grey, Stephanie Burke)

Is the Devil still a viable subject for a serious fantasy/horror novel? Or is he just a horned, fork-tailed joke? Can we still treat The Prince of Hell as a serious character?

Various cultures have different depictions of the Devil with widespread perspectives that all make their way into all kinds of writing. This is one subject that needs to be carefully monitored.  While it’s easy for writers to discuss all elements of influence, it’s important to remember that some of those elements are taken very seriously by many people.  This topic was touched upon in the panel, as well as discussing the various ways of utilizing the Devil as a force to be reckoned with by the characters in a book.

The Devil has been used as an antagonist (usually) when you feel you need to show a force with no morals or necessary reason to do evil.  One very important point was brought up with regard to the “monster” in a book: once you show the monster and their reason, the monster is no longer quite as effective or scary.  Keeping the monster as mystifying as possible is recommended.

Lastly, the Devil has even been used for comic relief in writing of a comedic nature.


The State of Short Fiction (Tom Purdom (mod), Neil Clarke, Sally Wiener Grotta, Tim W. Burke, Ken Altabef)

What new venues of short fiction have emerged recently? What markets have grown better or worse in terms of pay rates, response and general pleasantness to deal with?

One of the subjects brought up as a major influence to the subject of this panel was the continuing rise of electronic publication.  The writers on the panel discussed the expansion of genres and availability for new writers to get published while lamenting the declining pay over the years.  Also the quality of short fiction may be sacrificed with the increased publication of short fiction by writers that aren’t brought through the structure of the established book publishing industry.

There are still print magazines out there but they are declining, unfortunately.  It seems that the print magazines need to have a web presence (in addition to an automatic feed to tablets/phones, etc.) in order to stay competitive.  The question was brought up how long it will be before newspapers completely give up print.

Neil Clarke, editor of ClarkesWorld Magazine (, mentioned that volunteering to read the slush pile of a magazine is an excellent way to gain experience with both the process of publication (part of it), as well as seeing examples of what kind of writing gets published.


Planning to Write a Series (Tom Doyle (mod), Lawrence M. Schoen, Danielle Ackley-McPhail, D.H. Aire, Gail Z. Martin)

If you don’t plan, you may come up with a really neat idea in book 5 which is unfortunately inconsistent with the first four books. How can you keep it interesting and not get tied to your outline?

This is a difficult subject to stay focused on, as the panelists found it very easy to talk about the kind of writing that “becomes” a series, without the original intent.  Often, writing that was originally intended for one book becomes two or more.  Sometimes this is because of the writing being sizable enough to split up, or it may be that the publisher sees the success of a first book and wants to keep the series going without an end in sight.  It’s up to the author to be able to respond to these challenges without knowing how things will go.

The panelists also discussed the sort of planning that has to go into writing a series, which varies from author to author as everybody has a different style of preparing or outlining.  This is a subject that I felt could have easily had another hour or two, probably with a meal. Winking smile  I could have listened to these panelists all day.


The Science of SteamPunk (Christine Norris (mod), Neal Levin, Fran Wilde, Thomas Willeford)

There are plenty of stories (mostly set in a fantastic Victorian age) about incredible giant machines run on the POWER OF STEAM! But just how plausible is it? And if it IS plausible, why didn’t it happen?

This was an enjoyable panel to listen to as it became very clear that the panelists had some amusing anecdotes and observations throughout, and they really enjoyed the topic at hand.

Thomas Willeford, the engineer of the group who actually makes steampunk styled creations for movies and many other outlets, was often the voice of reason as he explained why some steampunk creations found in books and movies weren’t invented at the time of the book’s writing (the Victorian Era, for example).  Sometimes the answers were as simple as price and availability of materials which was educational.  Other explanations were more on the comedic side if it was explained that a certain combination of material and substance would explode and kill the person trying it, often negatively reinforcing its use. Open-mouthed smile  It was very clear to me that the suspension of belief in writing is a very powerful force, considering such creations and their viability.

They ended with discussing their favorite steampunk machines (some couldn’t stop with just one) as well as describing the ones they’d like to see (and how it would work).  These panelists had a blast and could easily have gone much longer.


Expanding a Short Story into a Novel (Steve Miller (mod), Sharon Lee, Lawrence M. Schoen, Mike McPhail, Anna Kashina)

How do you turn a short work into a longer work without just simply padding. What are proper ways to expand a story?

In this panel, there was some similar ground covered as in the panel above (planning to write for a series) in that the original intention of the writer changes.

Much of the time, a writer can start off with short stories, and then an idea emerges about what can happen next.  In short stories, the majority opinion was that there is no character development.  If an author has an idea about the character (or characters) in a short story that is expanding, then a novel can come out of it (and the novel might become a series).

From a publishing perspective, sometimes several short stories are combined into one piece of work.  The panelists pointed out that if you, as a reader, can detect the “seams” of where the disparate stories were stitched together it can take away from the overall quality.

It was also mentioned that short stories often come out of novels, when there is more information and adventures that can be created as an aftermath of the original writing.  Then, the cycle begins all over again.


The War Over E-Books: Libraries vs. Publishers (Don Sakers (mod), Daniel Grotta, Scheherazade Jackson)

Publishers and libraries disagree over the way that e-books and other electronic works should be handled. The conflicts range from how much they should cost, to how they can be lent out, and even to how actually owns them. We will discuss what this means, not just for the publishers and libraries, but for us, the readers and consumers.

Some history had to be presented by the panelists in order to understand the subject at hand.  Libraries have historically gotten a lot of their material via the public domain, which is populated by books after their original copyright is not renewed.  The copyright laws have changed in that the copyright doesn’t expire as soon as it used to.  Libraries have to work through the publishers now which dramatically affects what goes on their shelves.  This is especially important for newer material.

As libraries have had to deal with declining memberships over the last decade, it is imperative to be able to keep up with the electronic publication of books.  Libraries do not have the infrastructure to be able to keep up with the various publishers and often have to work with a middle-man type of company that works with the publishers for them.

There are a few examples of libraries that have put together their own system where they deal with the publishers (often small press) themselves, set their terms, and are able to put together an impressive collection of e-books for their subscribers.  It occurred to me that the possibility of a first-time writer getting an audience might do very well to contact publishers that deal directly with a library in this fashion.

There was also an example given of a new library in Houston that is entirely digital.  It’s critical for libraries to be able to adopt measures like this because Amazon and several other large-scale publishing content providers are already establishing their lending programs online for e-books.


Address: 221B Baker Street, London and New York (Allyn Gibson (mod), Melissa James, Richard Stout, Theodore Krulik, Kathy Sands)

Two very different Sherlocks are entertaining the masses, one set in modern London, the other in modern New York. Panelists and fans will discuss the pros and cons of the shows, how they differ, what they have in common, and why they work (or not).

The panelists combined with those of us in the audience in this panel as we shared our enthusiasm and knowledge of the various implementations of Sherlock Holmes.  The main focus was to discuss the two contemporary versions of the detective in the shows Sherlock, set in London and Elementary, set in New York.

Although many things were brought up about the differences between the two, the topic that seemed to attract the most focus was that a woman (played by actress Lucy Liu) was cast as Watson.  A great deal of discussion came out of this, from discussing Watson’s wives in the original literature to his typical portrayal as being ineffective when portrayed against the sharp contrast of Holmes’ intellect.

In Elementary, Joan Watson seems a stronger character, and the reasons why were brought up, including that of caring for Holmes’ addiction recovery.  This was another topic that was discussed, both the subject of addiction itself in todays day and age, as well as the chronicling and watchfulness of Joan Watson in this regard as a parallel to the journalistic nature of the original character.

There was speculation over what could still be true to the character when casting it in modern times, whether it be the ease of travel or the explosion of information via the internet that a character like Holmes would be attracted to.

While there were those on the panel as well as the audience that would have liked to “dislike” one show or the other because of their loyalty and enthusiasm for the original stories, it was clear that it was impossible for anybody NOT to see and still be fans of both.


Clockwork Chaos, a book launch and party for this steampunk anthology edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Neil Levin.

Here I got to hang out with Danielle, Neil and a lot of other writers, readers, editors, and fans.  We bought the book, had a raffle drawing, and ate lots of food.

My last few hours at the PhilCon were spent lugging all the books I got at the dealers room to keep me busy until next year’s PhilCon. Smile

UPDATE: Here are some more pictures from the PhilCon, Enjoy!




The dealers room (Heaven)


From the “Becoming a fulltime Writer” panel, with Alyce Wilson (moderator), Alex Shvartsman, David Sklar, D.L. Carter, Thomas Willeford

16-panel-writing-science-fiction-for-young-adults-with-ty-drago-bill-spangler-michael-j-friedman-e-c-myers-sept-9 From the “Writing Science Fiction for Young Adults” panel, with Ty Drago (moderator), Michael J. Friedman, Bill Spangler, E.C. Myers, Thomas Willeford
42-panel-the-business-of-writing-with-christine-norris-d-h-aire-steve-miller-alex-lidell-sept-10 From the “Business of Writing” panel, with Steve Miller (moderator), D.H. Aire, Christine Norris, Alex Lidell


  1. I’m sorry I missed Philcon this year. Question: did Charles Pellegrino attend? He used to come every year, but I haven’s seen him since the controversy over his book “Last Train from Hiroshima.”


  2. He wasn’t listed on any panels, and I didn’t hear of him being there otherwise. It’s a shame because there was a more pronounced SF theme this year than usual. It will all be here for ya next year, Tony. 🙂


  3. Matt,
    I think Neil Clarke meant that it was good experience to be a slush *pile* reader for a magazine (I think I would raid their slush fund). I did that for six months many years back for Asimov’s Science Fiction, and it was a real eye-opener in terms of seeing what about 90% of the submissions did wrong. You can learn a lot about the right way to open your own stories by seeing so many examples of people doing it wrong.


    • Agreed…I just made the edit. I think the word combo slush-fund was floating in my head from reading it somewhere repeatedly.



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