Where, at Readercon, you get to have about an hour–long chat with a writer, along with about fourteen other people. Sit on a high chair at a square table on the 8th floor of the Burlington Marriott. Get some coffee from coffee boxes (abomination!). Ask questions. Listen to stories. Discuss life and writing.
Sometimes the writer asks your name, sometimes a bit about you. If you’re a fan, it is more than cool. It is the opportunity of a lifetime to gaze with awe, love, and admiration. Maybe they’ll remember you. If an editor, maybe they’ll publish you.
I KaKl’ed with Daniel José Older, Sheila Williams, and Samuel Delaney .
Daniel José Older
Daniel writes urban fantasy mysteries and has just reached a tipping point, getting fabulous reviews in the NY Times Book Review for Shadowshaper. His work is set in Brooklyn where I live. Where he lives. With Latino and Latina characters, with language that reflects the New York Hispanic culture. He paints a rich, cultural landscape where bizarre things happen and even more bizarre people live. He deserves all the success in the world.
Daniel is a Santeria priest. He told us! This lends him, for us Anglos in the room, a flavor of exoticism, as well as a sense of danger, ignorant as we are for the most part, about the religion. He admits to sacrificing chickens, though I’m not sure he is not goofing on us. I’m not a fan of sacrificing animals for religious purposes, and personally I believe amazing things can be done without animal murder. I get the blood thing. But still.
But aside from the sensational, Daniel is a warm, outgoing guy who is totally dedicated to his writing (after also working as an EMT in the Bronx.). He is also dedicated to bringing Latino/a characters into speculative fiction and supports many causes and people on this account (apparently he has a hugely popular Twitter account). i.e. Get rid of Lovecraft as the image for the statue for the World Fantasy Awards. The guy, according to Daniel, and to me, was a total racist, anti-semitic, misogynistic loonie tune, who wrote brilliantly creepy stuff. But come on, folks, Get over him.
Daniel also has no tolerance (yay!!) for writing that includes stereotypes of brown people from wherever, and cited the much-maligned (deservedly, I think) work of JimButcher. A minor tiff ensued with someone who supported and admired Butcher, citing his improved political stances (less homophobic, racist, by book 4), but Daniel had no tolerance for that.
Apparently he is willing to throw a book across the room if it makes him angry. Yay again.
A moving moment during this particular KaKl was when a young woman mentioned that she, being Hispanic, felt finally she could read stories about characters like her (maybe she doesn’t get to read the many many Latino/a writers out there). But it is true, that in the mostly white world of spec fiction, non-white writers and characters are rare. We see that changing (cf. DJO, Butler, Shawl, Liu, Chiang, Hopkinson, etc.), and we can reference the folks in BSFW.
Daniel is a very likable, personable, friendly, funny, and smart guy. The hour flew by.
Sheila, as the world knows, is the Editor of Asimov’s. (I had met her a couple of years ago when I attended the Short Story Workshop at the Center for the Study of Science Fiction, with Chris McKitterick and Andy Duncan, with a meeting with James Gunn. Writers: GO! They are all brilliant teachers and the critique groups are excellent.)
Anyway, I was thrilled that Sheila not only recognized me but remembered I worked in theatre. Cool! Also in attendance were my dear friends Kathy Kitts and Jean Asselin, who I met in Kansas.
Sheila talked at length about her work day. She reads hundreds of stories now, and mentioned that she is finally caught up with all the submissions. She had some thoughts and anecdotes:
The guy who had sent in 85 stories and been rejected 85 times. She guessed he was hoping that the next one would be the one Asimov’s accepted.
She does not want to read a novel in the cover letter. Unless the story is based on something in the writer’s life (i.e. about a weird circus and the writer worked in the circus), long bios aren’t really necessary. The story should say it all.
After so many years as an editor, she has a strong feeling about what makes a strong story and if it is suitable for Asimov’s.
Asimov’s is digital now, which has helped circulation. Asimov’s will be starting a podcast soon, and is looking for readers. No pay, but hey.
I got the feeling that Sheila is a generous editor and REALLY, REALLY wants a good story to come her way.
Asked if she regretted passing up a story that went on to win awards, she said that of course editors miss stuff, but generally if she passed, it meant the story was not right for Asimov’s.
Right then (at Readercon) she was working on the blurbs that precede the stories. I always wanted to know who wrote those.
For someone who is probably besieged by writers, Sheila was warm and open! I felt encouraged and sent in one of my stories the next week. She wrote back an extremely charming rejection letter, which actually included a helpful critique.
What can I say? What a character! What a nice man! What a brilliant man! What an unabashedly sexual man!
I don’t remember all of the questions, but I remember that each question prompted a long involved story about theory, practice, working, writing, sexuality, publishing, and academia. It seems Mr. Delaney, (I couldn’t bring myself to call him Samuel) has mostly been writing critique and theory articles about speculative fiction, writing, and issues of gender and identity.
I read Dhalgren in college (so long ago) and remember being very unsettled by the book for numerous reasons: an unpleasant post-apocalyptic world, sexual behavior that this then-naïve gal had never heard of, and a strong sense of alienation on the part of the protagonist. Yes, it was a time for this sort of investigation, but no one, with perhaps the exception of Ellison, Russ, and a few others were interested in unsettling the speculative fiction reader. Escape, we could not.
Seems like Mr. Delaney hasn’t mellowed at all in this respect, which is such a wonderful inspiration for writers: follow your heart, your mission, and your personal truth. Think about what society is, gives, and takes away.
Societal analysis should not be a stranger to speculative fiction, but an integral part, no matter how “out there” it may seem to be.
Delaney is an original: he wrote about sex, people of color, screwed-up society, alienation, and a whole host of other themes that are now almost standard.
And he still shows up at a Readercon and talks with everybody and anybody, telling stories, answering questions, and always asking questions.
So, should you sign up for these kaffeeklatches?
Ridiculous question, of course you should. Meet these folks. Ask a question. Have your face in the room and listen. Take notes. Get books signed. They are there because they want to meet you, too. Otherwise, why bother?
They are a nice change from the huge panels in the huge freezing rooms, or odd questions from the audience (though this was rarer this year than my first Readercon two years ago).
Would love to hear from those who went to other KaKl’s.