Sunday, November 28, 2010

PhilCon, Speculative Fiction & YA Literature

This past weekend, we trekked on up to PhilCon (the speculative fiction convention which has been hosted by the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society for something like 60-70 years now. Over the last few years, the con is inexplicably relocated to Cherry Hill, New Jersey but it’s still called PhilCon.

“We” is myself and Demaris. Demaris and I used to work together at the Univ of Del Library until I retired. Demaris does not write but is an avid reader of both YA and speculative fiction literature. She has, I believe, five grandchildren.

Peter Beagle (“Last Unicorn) was the guest of honor, and a variety of authors and editors filled the panels. The musical (“filking”) track was organized by Roberta Rogow. Filk is the folk music of the Speculative Fiction community. For more about it, see Jordin Kare’s essay at

Or go to Interfilk’s many links, at .

The big focus for me was the chance of a reading Friday evening, hosted by PhilCon and by the Broad Universe professional writers group:

Demaris and I brought along 8 copies of Seabird and 4 sets of copies of Earthbow vols. 1&2, in the hopes of selling them at the reading or elsewhere during the con. The “BU Rapid Fire Reading” got off to a shaky start—when we arrived at our room (located on a standard hotel floor) we found the door locked. A quick call to the front desk did know good. Eventually—halfway through our readings right out in the hallway by the elevators—someone showed up from the ConComm at let us into our meeting room.

I read a scene from Earthbow Vol.1, in which a young fighter named Coris is trying to sneak into the keepmaster’s room to steal a medicine needed by a servant who is desperately ill. He finds the meds, but then hears someone approaching the room’s door. He hides in the room, risking his life so doing. As I approached the end of the scene, one of the people in the room approaches his hiding place in order to search for a scroll. Hopelessly, Coris prepares to fight. End of scene. J

The reading stirred up some interest in my books, and we just happened to have carried books with us. I had brought regular copies of books to sell at half price, plus a few uncorrected proof copies from 2 years ago when Seabird first came out. These we put on the freebie table—and watched them snatched up over the next few hours, practically before our eyes. I also offered one set of Seabird & the Earthbow volumes to a dealer in the vendor’s hall, for free, in the hopes that he would make a sale with them and eventually choose to buy more from my publisher. I have no idea what will come of that. Frankly, I’ve tried it in the past with a couple of bookstores, but it doesn’t seem to have worked.

After most of the book business was concluded for the con, we settled down to attending panels. Yes, I’m just old-fashioned enough to believe that con-going involves actually sitting through a variety of “industry-related” panels and occasionally trying to get a question in edgeways. To me, this is a great way to network with other writers, as well as publishers, reviewers and editors. I happen to do less well networking at con parties. I’m no wallflower, but I do have trouble trying to change subjects to something about books at those parties, so I don’t try any more.

Anyway, Demaris and I went to a variety of panels—sometimes together and sometimes splitting up. We also attended Peter Beagle’s address, which was great once he was given a microphone. Later he sang and played his own songs and others during the intermission at the masquerade.

One panel that should have particular interest here was “How Scary Can Young Adult Fiction Get? – What are the allowable limits in writing for young adults?” Moderated by J Andrew World, with panelists: Patricia M Cryan, Christine Norris, and Peter Prellwitz.

The areas discussed were 1) defining YA lit, (MC is “underage”); 2) How graphically do you show any violence? How do you tell it? 3) Does the child or teen become scared for the characters or do they feel personally at risk? 4) Losing souls in Golden Compass; the little girl in Poltergeist; 5) Different for each child. Decide for child but with their feedback. 6) Do the events in the story cause some children to draw from their own experiences and reinforce that it could happen to them?

I asked a question or two during the panel and was able to follow up with Patricia afterwards. Patricia and her husband have a shop in Worcester MA, which specializes in Children’s Lit and in Comics. She has other related interests in her area. We’re now friended on FB.

In another panel, I met Jay Wile, a chemist who just happens to have an interest in YA literature. He promised to come home and order my books on Amazon. (By then I was out of copies). The great thing is that Jay actually did so, and now we’re corresponding by email.

Other panels which I found interesting were: “The Roots of Steam Punk”; “The Shift Back to Small Presses”; “How to Get Rejected”; “Career Planning for Authors”; and one I didn’t attend because I felt I knew the answer: “Is the Full Time Novelist an endangered species?”.

I attended a variety of other panels that were not related to YA fiction, plus I spent several hours singing and listening to music in the filk room. I had a great but semi-exhausting time and—for a change—came home largely with books I had purchased rather than with my own copies.

If you have any questions about any of this—shoot them at me before I forget all of the details. Warning: my memory half-life isn’t what it used to be.

p.s. I hope that some of you will consider going back to my previous post, “Beginnings and Endings and Dingles”, and maybe offering advice on what I can do with my story fragment. See


  1. Sounds like a good conference. I keep telling myself I'll attend and then life gets in the way. Cherry Hill isn't far from where I live. Maybe an hour and a half drive.

  2. Great post. The conference sounds interesting. Nice that you sold books too.

  3. Sounds like a good con. Broad Universe's website is (since not everyone can read the newsgroup)

  4. PhilCon is, sadly, not as good as it used to be. Or maybe that's just my own prejudices showing up. I'm very glad that they still have a lively authors track in the programming. However, other fixtures like the dealer's room and the masquerade have grown much smaller. We had probably half the people we used to get in the filk room. And of course, I dislike the new location, since it's difficult for me to reach.

    Now, I sound like I'm trying to talk you out of going, don't I? The authors and written SF/Fantasy track probably beat much of what you'll find at other regional cons--with the exception of ReaderCon. (Or so I've heard. I've never gotten to that one.)

    Maybe I'll see some of you next year.

    Sherry Thompson

  5. Kathy, thanks for the correction. I used the only URL for Broad Universe that I had bookmarked, which was just being lazy.