Con-Gregate: A Brand New Science Fiction Convention

Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan

Meet Greg-8, avatar of Con-Gregate, a new start-up Con in the North Carolina Triad: Greensboro, High Point, and Winston-Salem.
Kinda cute isn’t he?

Why that name? Think Con-Greg-8.

The first annual Con-Gregate was held in Winston-Salem this past weekend. I’m hoping for more photos for next week’s post.

Con-Gregate comes with a distinguished pedigree, organized as it is by a committee with extensive experience running such conventions as RavenCon, ConCarolinas, StellarCon, Trinoc-coN and DragonCon

That experience showed. Con-Gregate 1 was an enthusiastic, smoothly-run gathering with what seemed to me surprisingly good attendance for a first-run Con.

Larry Correia Larry Correia

The Guest list was good too, with Writer Guest of Honor Larry Correia, author of the Monster Hunter International series and the Grimnoir Chronicles, and Artist Guest of Honor, Mark Poole, with such gaming art credits as Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons and Dragons. Special guests included Special Literary Guest Toni Weisskopf, publisher of Baen Books, and Special Media Arts Guest Jennifer McCollom, professional make-up artist for such films as The Hunger Games and Talladega Nights.

Most all the guests, in fact, were entertaining and informative, and frequently more than usually conversant with their audiences.

Mark Poole Mark Poole

In answer to fans’ requests, the programming included specially planned interactive features, including audience participation discussions and roundtable workshops in addition to the more traditional discussions among the expert panelists with questions from the audience in the final minutes.

Con-Gregate 2 will meet July 10-12, 2015, at the High Point Plaza Hotel in High Point, North Carolina. Writer Guests of Honor will be Timothy Zahn and Michael Stackpole, with Fan Guest of Honor Albin Johnson and Special Artist Guest Scott Rorie.

Looks like another good one!

Juliet McKenna’s Rogues and Mages

Gambler's FortuneWhile not too unlike the usual motley of medieval fantasy folk, Juliet E. McKenna’s characters come equipped–or lumbered–with finely-drawn gifts and quirks that set them apart both in her world and in the usual run of characters in the genre.

Their distinctiveness arises in part from several interesting ethnicities. The hunter-gatherer forest folk, for instance, have fiery hair, exceptional night vision and gifts for music and survival. The yellow-haired mountain dwellers are given to monolithic clan fortresses, mining, shepherding, and feuding, within a matriarchal society. But most important in all these peoples are their individual qualities of head, heart and/or temperament, either natural or the result of chancy nurturing in their chaotic world.

Previous reviews of McKenna’s Tales of Einarinn series have examined her extraordinary female hero Livak (The Thief’s Gamble) and Livak’s partner in adventure Ryshad, “a man both bold and honest,” (The Swordsman’s Oath.) In The Gambler’s Fortune, three of her well crafted supporting characters move into finer focus: a mage, Usara of Hadrumal, and the brothers Sorgrad and Sorgren, two thoroughly disreputable old friends from earlier adventures.

Livak leading, they constitute a company of four chartered by Archmage of Hadrumal and the powerful Tormalin house of D’Olbriot. Their charge? A quest for traces of an ancient magic now being wielded against them by shadowy enemies from beyond the sea. Livak’s leverage in winning the commission–and her hope for a fortune suitable to a quiet early retirement with Ryshad–is a book, a collection of ancient songs which may hold clues to the lost magic.

With Ryshad left to his own responsibilities and hopes of fortune back in Tormalin, Livak takes full stage with her personal brand of leadership: brainy, confident, and resourceful; courageous almost to the point of recklessness when the odds are with her or when lives are in danger.

The mage Usara is touchingly drawn as the closeted scholar eager to pit his considerable powers against the challenges of the greater world. Never mind his less-than-subtle air of superiority and sporadic power struggles with Livak, he works hard as a mage, ever willing to tire himself to exhaustion for the protection of others.Further Tales

Sorgrad and Sorgren, pureblood natives of the northern mountains, are the darkest of Livak’s allies but far from the darkest of her world. As young men, expelled from their clans for impudence and disruptive behavior, they blazed a trail of mayhem and larceny across the lowlands, chiefly as soldiers of fortune in the annual summer wars. Sorgrad, the elder, is good-looking, intelligent, self-taught in many skills and social graces, ingenious in devising enterprises and strategizing battles large and small. Sorgren, the smaller and more violent of the two, has rarely, if ever, lost a fight.

So why are they, and particularly Sorgren, in Livak’s company? Because their greatest positive talent is unfailing loyalty, priceless beyond gold in her dangerous world. And because, on this venture, their less attractive talents may mean the difference between life and death.

That enemy, a wizard as brutal and implacable as the vicious father and frozen land that produced him, will draw Sorgren into the battle of his life, revealing the blackest secrets of both their souls.

As has been said of other anti-heroes, the brothers will do the bad, even the evil thing to stop the horrible thing.

Still, interleaved with the challenges of this engrossing adventure are good times among friends, interludes with the intriguing people of the forest, and the wisdom and poetry of Livak’s book of ancient songs.

imagesIncidentally, the account of her discovering that book can be found in A Few Further Tales of Einarinn, a collection of illuminating shorter works set between Swordsman’s Oath and Gambler’s Fortune. The story, “Absent Friends,” also provides a closer look at Livak’s and Ryshad’s relationship in quieter times.

The Gambler’s Fortune, A Few Further Tales of Einarinn, and many other works by Juliet E. McKenna are published by Wizard’s Tower Press and can be found on

Panel Notes: Balticon 2014

Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan


Balticon was as colorful, musical, imaginative, and creatively stimulating as ever this year, with a wide range of guests including GOH Brandon Sanderson, Bard/Filk GOH Kenneth Anders, Artist GOH Halo Jankowski, 2014 Robert Heinlein Award Winner Geoffrey A. Landis, and 2014 Compton Crook Award Winner Charles E. Gannon.

As always, I made my way happily from one panel to another throughout the con with occasional stops for music, poetry, book buying, conversations, autographs, food and — oh, yes — sleep.

Among the panels that most caught my attention were the following, with a few particularly interesting bits from each.

Pricing E-Books; Why Free Is Not Always Better
Panelists: Sue Baiman, Collin Earl, Kelly Harmon, Chris Snelgrove, and Michael Underwood.
• Don’t give away anything free without something else for sale following soon after.

Writing Resolutions, Evaluation and Measurement
Panelists: Andrea Trask, Kelly Harmon, Day Al-Mohammed. Cindy Young-Turner, Judi Fleming
• Take five minutes to plan a goal for the day, then write to the goal.
• Keep a time budget: what you will give up for time to write, what entertainments you will grant yourself as rewards for meeting deadlines

Writing Sequels, Prequels, and Spinoffs
Panelists: Maria V. Snyder, Lawrence M. Schoen, Tom Doyle, Bob Greenberger, Mike D’Ambrosio
• Write each book as a complete story, with a subplot to build on in later books.
• Intro later leading characters as cameos in earlier books.
• Plan individual character arcs for each book within an umbrella arc for the series.

Cool Underused Ways To Travel In Space
Panelists: Andy Love, Catherine Asaro, Geoffery Landis, Charles E Gannon, Pamela Gay
• Make your speed a complex number and above-light speeds are easy.
• Efforts are underway to engineer carbon nanotubes suitable to construct a rotovator or rotating space elevator.

Open-Heart Surgery With A Chainsaw (Making Deep Edits to Your Novel)
Panelists: Eric Bakutis, Michelle Moore, Michael Black, Chris Jackson.
• A case of writers block may mean that something in your novel isn’t working.
• Is anything about the story repetitive? Or illogical?
• Are deep cuts needed? Look first for any scenes that don’t advance the story.

A special treat was serving with Mary Turzillo, Jo Walton and Geoffrey Landis as readers of the winning poems in the Annual Balticon Poetry Contest. Afterwards we joined members of the poetry workshop in an open mike session reading poetry of our own..

Altogether a satisfying weekend.  My thanks to Balticon 48 Chair Kelly Shannon Pierce, Vice Chair “Thomas the Red” Horman, and their entire inexhaustible crew.

Kickass, Heroic, Anti-Heroic, and Villainous Characters at ConCarolinas 2014

Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan

ConCarolinas 2013, as I reported at the time, presented “the best panel program I [had] seen short of a worldcon or Nebula Weekend.”

Well, Con Chair Jada Diaz, Programming Director Carol Cowles, and company, definitely kept up the good work in 2014. The panel topics were many, varied, useful to writers and

Writing Hardcore Characters James Maxey Moderates

Writing Hardcore Characters
James Maxey Moderates

fascinating to readers. As both a reader and a writer I found the two below the most intriguing of them all and among the most insightful I’ve ever attended. I’ve listed a few key points from each.

Writing Hardcore Characters
Panel description: Creating strong, kickass characters
Panelists: T. Eric Bakutis, Jim Bernheimer, Stuart Jaffe, J.F. Lewis, Claudette Marco. Moderator: James Maxey

A hardcore, kickass character:

  •   is more concerned with what s/he sees as is right than with personal loss or danger.
  •   will do whatever the job requires, whatever the job is, whatever the danger or fallout.
  •   is very clear on what s/he is fighting for. Killing isn’t the point. The quest/crusade is.
  • Note: it is the heart and spirit of such a character, not the cause s/he is fighting for, that creates the hard, unyielding, steadfast core.

Issues in writing a hardcore/kickass character:

Writing Hardcore Characters Michael G. Williams and Claudette Marco

Writing Hardcore Characters
Michael G. Williams and Claudette Marco

  •   This character begins so strong and determined that changes leading to his/her development in the course of the story can be hard to find.
  •   Is there a tiny crack in the armor s/he has been living with from the start?
  •   What will s/he do when the goal becomes impossible?
  •   The character must stay true to self, however the self may change.
  •   Talk is cheap. Let the reader see him/her doing the things that make them kickass.
  •   For comparison, pair him/her with a sidekick (sidekickass?) who is less competent, or much more competent in different ways.

The Art of the Anti-Hero (very likely also kicks some ass)
Panel description: There’s a fine line between creating the lovable rogue and creating a dislikable cad. Here’s how to walk the fine line.

The Art of the Anti-hero Jim Bernheimer, J.F.Lewis, Alexandra Christian, Tamsin Silver, Michael G. Williams, Moderator Allen Wold

The Art of the Anti-hero
Jim Bernheimer, J.F.Lewis, Alexandra Christian, Tamsin Silver, Michael G. Williams, Moderator Allen Wold

Panelists: Jim Bernheimer, Alexandra Christian, Emily Lavin Leverett, J. F. Lewis, Tamsin L. Silver, Moderator: Allen Wold

Varieties of the Lovable Rogue:

  •   Good guy with faults and/or flaws.
  •   Bad guy with some redeeming values.
  •   Shoots first, but on the right side.
  •   Has an iron-clad code of conduct, but it’s not our code.
  •   Does the bad thing to stop the horrible thing.

Varieties of the Dislikable Cad:

  •   Willing to do anything to satisfy his/her own wants.

    The Art of the Anti-hero Allen Wold Moderates

    The Art of the Anti-hero
    Allen Wold Moderates

  •   Committed to own cause, won’t be balked by the sensibilities of others.
  •   Pursues own motivations which, this time, line up with the protagonist’s or the need at hand.
  •   Has an iron-clad code of conduct, but it’s definitely not our code.

Differences between the Hero, the Anti-hero and the Villain:

  •   The hero sets out to sacrifice him/herself for the cause, the anti-hero is surprised when it happens.
  •   The hero does what s/he must to benefit the other, the villain does what s/he must to benefit him/herself.
  •   The hero and anti-hero are capable of setting aside their own motivations. The villain cannot or will not.
  • Note: Everyone is the hero of his/her own story.

My thanks to all these panelists. I will read such characters much more intelligently, and hopefully write them as intelligently as these writers do, in times to come.

Photography courtesy of Judith W. Ross.


ConCarolinas 2014, Part 1

Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan

I’m starting off a pair of posts on ConCarolinas with photos and brief peaks at some of this year’s outstanding guests, performers, and panelists:

25 - George R. R. Martin 2George R.R. Martin signed autographs, discussed his Wild Card series, read from his new novel Winds of Winter and answered 77 - David Weber 3questions for what often seemed like mile-long lines of patient devotees, and occasionally held court in the hotel’s University Cafe.  David Webber also signed and read for large numbers of fans, discussed his famed Honor Harrington series, and contributed comments, answers, insights, and stories on warfare and the military.

07 - Danny Birt Filk Concert 3Danny Birt provided informal evening filk singing as well as concerts and panel appearances on musical matters.  Jonah Knight performed his own musical brand of creepy and/or steam punk and/or fantasy sub-genres in concerts throughout the weekend.

31 - Jonah Knight 3






Panels discussed a wide variety of SF/F/science/writing and related topics, including this one titled “Breakfast and Books” with, with Samule Montgomery-Blinn, Tera Fulbright, Janine K. Spendlove, Stuart Jaffe and Amy H. Sturgis.

48 - Breakfast and Books 4

In a few days,  ConCarolinas 2014 Part 2, much more on fascinating tidbits of science, writing, and genre interest heard in panels and other discussions over the weekend. Plus a full report om Balticon 2014.

Photography courtesy of Judith W. Ross.

Particle Fever

copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan

As babies, we face a bewilderment of questions.

Who is holding me, feeding me? What is it that I hear, touch, see?

‘When’ and ‘where’ will come later, but among our earliest, and likely the first we actually vocalize, is that gold-standard of questions, ‘why!’

The minute any of us little humans latch onto that one, our whole world becomes a place of mystery and challenge, where every answer generates more questions that must have answers of their own. And we begin to drive our parents mad.

Some of our questions have no answer at all, and we discover as we grow that those are the very best. They can tease and intrigue us for the rest of our lives, each small discovery bringing its gifts of knowledge and satisfaction.Particle Fever2.

Many of us find a profession in technology or history or (ahem) writing, any source of ongoing challenge that gratifies that ardor in us. Others seem to redirect or rephrase or, sadly, even quash the drive. Still others, perhaps the most blessed and cursed of us all, follow its lure to a lifetime of experiment and study, and perhaps to newfound truths about the universe.

Our history, our ongoing, stair-step advancement as intelligent beings, is way-marked by such paradigm-shifting discoveries. And yet the greatest of them, particularly in today’s sciences, leave so many of us cold.

The Higgs Boson, the most important discovery of recent times, was also one of the most dramatic, coming at an early stage in what was expected to be a search of many years, if indeed it could be found at all. Yet it flew by most of us in a day.

As with other ‘whys,’ the reasons for such disinterest are many. But for the Higgs, at least, there is a solution.

Go and find, somehow, somewhere, a video documentary called “Particle Fever.” Forty-plus scientists, actually working on the Large Hadron Collider, will explain their work to you, show you live videos of various construction and testing phases, and share their jubilant celebration at their success.

It will electrify you.

More information is here (Facebook page) and here, the trailer is here and a background video here.

It’s been one of those days

Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan

You know the kind I mean.  Nothing happening.  No inspiration. Not dreary exactly, but … dull.

And not a word to be found anywhere in my head.

Yeah. That kind of day.250px-Mummy_1

Calls to mind a bit of schoolgirl doggerel:

When words stagnate,
emotions clot,
and memories decay,
I comprehend first hand
the fate of Pharaohs …
eyes ears teeth breath
flesh and fingertips
swathed in insulating white …
heart and brain misplaced …
time …
drifting …

That feeling exactly.

The mummy.

Without all the paint and precious stones.


Photo Credit:  Academic Kids   and  Classroom Clip Art

Learned While Writing

Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan

imagesWe’ve all heard of characters who snatch the reins from their author’s hands somewhere between intent and page. Many of us have experienced it. Now I am coming to realize that it is not only imaginary beings that can inform us of our deeper thinking as we write.

I recently had the happy opportunity to write a guest post for Fantasy Café on the subject of creating alien characters. In the course of that I found myself experiencing deeper insight, not merely into the concept of beings alien to our world, but also into the scientific bases of my invention. In writing about the ways an environment can influence the life within it, I came to see a far broader range of possibility for the senses and other capacities of alien characters than I had previously considered.

In short, I knew more about writing aliens when I finished the post than I had known when I began. I also knew more about the benefits of such characterization for readers as well as for writers of the work.

But such learning is nothing new, is it? There really is something freeing about the act of forming generalized thought into words. Something that opens the gates to deeper understanding.

Ever had a discussion question on a test where you figured out more about the subject than you thought you knew? Yeah. Me too. Even on a physics test once, when a concept that had remained a mystery to me suddenly became clear.

And does it seem to you that writing can be more effective than speech for expressing our deeper, more complex thoughts? It does to me. But then, we do tend to think more deeply and express ourselves more clearly when we write.

Maybe it’s that closer examination that does the trick, that we free our subconscious mind by delving into it and giving it a more fluent outlet.

So the old adage is truer than we knew: we learn to write — and what to write — by writing.

Illustration credit:

“Vooorh” Is Out in Analog!

Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan

Analog JulAug 2014a

 (ahem. Note name at lower right) :-D

Vooorh is an alien, one of two that Sara and Jason and their dog Shep encountered on the mountain back of their farm in the short story “Two Look at Two” (Analog, April 2011.)

This story takes up the account four days after that meeting, but stands firmly on its own.

As a novelette, it allows closer examination of the wary but evolving relationship between Human and Other. But questions remain: Who are these beings from the stars? Why are they here? What do they want? Does their presence bode well or ill for humans. And … are they the only aliens on the mountain…?

Like “Two Look at Two,” “Vooorh” is adapted from my novel in progress, a present-day “people-to-people” alien contact story set in the mountains of western North Carolina.



Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan

Rumbald touchup crop adj1

I have two favorite seasons.

Most often I would tell you that fall is my favorite, as deep summery greens take on that rich golden glow that gradually deepens to such amazing hues.Dogwood

But on a spring day like this one … what can I say.  My affections wander, and my favorite is definitely spring!

I can’t help myself.

The craggy, worn-down mountain across the little lake has surprised me once again with the variety of its greens, spread over its flanks in soft, feathery poufs, while after-rain seeps and waterfalls slide glistening down its gray stony face.

Nearer at hand, birds and butterflies have come out to play in the sun, finally believing, perhaps, that the earlier daffodils were not such shameless teases after all, and that Spring has finally come. Perhaps. I, for one, may never trust their flirty yellow winks and nods again.

Dogwood 2The Dogwoods are a different story. Their shy white lace, so lovely posing here and there beneath larger trees, would never lead us astray. Would they?

But even if they have, and there is yet another bout of winter to come, I’ll take this day as a successful dress rehearsal for the performance that is surely, eventually, to come.


Photography by Ken and Paula Jordan