May 2020: the month of unexpected online SFF writing conventions

On May 16-17, there will be an online SFF writing con called Dreams of Foundry, free for all attendees. Two of my former classmates, Elsa Sjunneson and Suzanne Walker, will be on several panels. I signed up for as many panels as possible. I’ll be like a kid at a candy store. There’s even a session, Menagerie, that lets us show off our furry friends.

On May 28-30, I wound up with a full scholarship to attend this year’s Nebula conference. Normally it’s in Los Angeles, and having only been to my local writing con (Writefest), I’ve never attended a con exclusively for SFF writing, and at the scale of the Nebulas. Lacking time and money makes pretty much any con not in my area out of my reach, so the Nebulas were never in the cards for me ever since I first heard of them. But by an unexpected, though much appreciated gesture of generosity from Mary Robinette Kowal, on behalf of SFWA, my Clarion 2020-2021 cohort is able to attend the Nebulas on a full scholarship.

I look forward to seeing all my writing friends and acquaintances, and making many more!

Goals vs Milestones, Wants vs Needs

I’ll never forget meeting Ken Liu. He came to Writefest as a GoH in 2017. Before his panel, he sat down with me to have a one-on-one conversation for at least an hour. His generous time and attention with me, a newbie, made him that much more relatable. He gave great advice:

Goals vs milestones. Goals involve numbers and tasks you set for yourself. Milestones are achievements. Goals are within your control. Milestones aren’t. Work on what you have control over, and of course, celebrate the milestones if they happen.

Writing at least 500 words a day is a goal. NaNoWriMo is a goal. Publication is a milestone. Getting an agent is a milestone. Award nomination is a milestone. It helps to know the difference. Don’t get the two mixed up. Don’t mix up milestones for goals, or you’re bound for disappointment, frustration, and despair because you’ll always feel like the odds are too low and your “goals” are beyond you. I don’t want anyone falling into that mindset.

I’ll add to this with wants vs needs. For example: Did I WANT Clarion? Heck yeah. Do I NEED it? Nope. It’s ok to want something like that. Or not. To feel like you NEED it isn’t a healthy feeling. Goal: choose stories suitable for sample to Clarion. Milestone: got into Clarion.

Keeping these distinctions in mind really helps me have a tangible, organized scheme in my mind on what I can reasonably achieve and strive for. This is the mindset that I think helps me, as a writer, stay healthy emotionally and mentally.

Meeting Jeremy Renner/Hawkeye and Anthony Mackie/Falcon at Celebrity Fan Fest

Imagine my surprise when I found out around May that a bunch of MCU stars would show up in San Antonio for Celebrity Fan Fest on June 14-16. As Okoye from the Black Panther movie had wisely said: “It’s too good of an opportunity to pass!” I had to take it. I can’t miss a local con!

The drive to San Antonio took 3 hours. I had some time to kill, so before being dropped off at the Expo Hall, I had lunch at Guenther House with my mom and we checked out the historic houses in Kingsville. Because I came on a Saturday afternoon, I hardly had to wait to grab my badge. And what a badge! It could eat the Ace one whole.


My initial schedule went like this:
2:15 Jeremy Renner photo
3:15 Jeremy Renner autograph
5:30 Anthony Mackie photo

I had done photo ops before with Tom Hiddleston and Elizabeth Olsen. Still, I was nervous. I hoped that Jeremy would go along with my Pokemon prop idea. The night before, I used some foam board and tape to stick an arrow on my Decidueye plush. As I was expecting, photos went lightning quick as people had only seconds to get a pic snapped. While waiting in line, I chatted with a couple from the Navajo Nation. I wish I had asked them of their opinion on Wind River, which starred Jeremy Renner and involved issues at a Native American reservation. When it was my turn for the photo, I presented Decidueye to Jeremy and said, “If Hawkeye had a Pokemon, it would be this.” I’m 99% sure he doesn’t know what the heck a Decidueye is, but I think he got the idea when he saw a bird with an arrow. He smiled and laughed and said, “That’s neat.” He held that while I held my Gengar (one of my favorite Pokemon).


In all honesty, it didn’t quite go the way I had planned. Because Decidueye is pointing to the left, I was hoping that Jeremy would stand at the right side while I would stand at the left, like a pair of opponents in a Pokemon battle. I also forgot to tilt my head down a bit to avoid the glare in my glasses aaargh. I’m mostly happy with how it turned out, though. The best part was after the photo. Jeremy handed back my Decidueye plush, thanked me for coming, and gave a good-natured pat/rub on my back as I left. What a nice guy!

Next up was the autograph with Jeremy. I thought I had time to kill by looking at the vendors and artist alley, but time flew by. Before I knew it, I had to line up for the autograph, and I lined up too late! The line capped off a few people before me. We were told by a volunteer that things are delayed and we have to come back at 5:15. More time to kill, then. I hunted down the pin guy my sister was talking about, and bought a pair of Stitch pins for her. For myself, I bought a Black Panther keychain that isn’t available online. A good find in my book. I grew more and more anxious about the delayed autograph, because close to that time is the photo with Anthony Mackie. I made extra sure to be the first to line up for 5:15. A volunteer directed me (and subsequently the rest of the line) to wait at another guest’s booth before we were moved to the line for Jeremy. I befriended a guy named Ricky, who works at a movie theater, and we chatted about everything from movies to video games to kill time. We stood around and waited for another hour or so before Jeremy showed up at the autograph table.

Behind the partition, he sat at the right end of a long table. I got nervous again, hoping I would say everything I meant to say in the small amount of time each of us in line had. I had decided to draw an “Avengers dragon series,” starting with the red dragon Scarlet Witch drawing that was seen and signed by Elizabeth Olsen. While being shuffled down the line, I opened up my sketchbook for Jeremy to sign this:


I don’t remember the exact words in our conversation, because it went by so quickly, but I’ll do my best to remember. So I started by telling him that I drew an Asian dragon for the Ronin aesthetic. He said something like “Yeah I can see that!” Then he asked dryly, “What, don’t you have anything better to do with your life?” I knew he was just being sarcastic, so I didn’t get offended. I said something like “Actually, I barely have time to do this kind of stuff! The con gave me an excuse to make free time for this.” Then I asked for a leftie high five, because he and I are left-handed. I high-fived his right hand, and he said in that dry tone again, “That’s how it goes, doing it with our right hand.” Omg this guy. He’s killing me. I was like “hey, I don’t wanna mess up my hand with that sharpie,” which he was holding with his left. Then he signed the drawing, became serious and genuine and said “This is great, thank you very much for making this.” He bowed as he handed my sketchbook back to me. I guess he thought I was Japanese? His gesture took me by surprise and made me really happy, though. I returned the bow and thanks. Again, what a nice guy for showing his gratitude. I bet he’s like that with all the fans, in one way or another. I came away learning this: if you’re going to meet Jeremy Renner, be prepared for playful banter and jibes. Don’t take any of it personally. That’s just how he jokes around. He has a very dry sense of humor, but he can switch quickly to genuine sincerity that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Of course, there were things I forgot and felt like I didn’t have enough time to tell him, like expressing hope that he and other MCU stars would come to Houston (especially Elizabeth Olsen, because he and her are practically neighbors, apparently). I also forgot to tell him that I really liked his performance in Wind River. Oh well, what can you do?

Next up was the photo with Anthony Mackie. Unlike the long wait in line for Jeremy Renner’s autograph, this went by quickly. I paid for general photo, not VIP, and I was running late from the autograph, so think I was the last in line for Anthony’s photo. Though the line was quick, I had some time to chat with some guys from Dallas. One of them is a combat medic, so I asked him of his informed opinion on The Hurt Locker.

When it was my turn for the photo, I approached Anthony holding up the props and said, “We’re going to reenact a certain scene.” He and the volunteers cracked up at the sight of my props. I told Anthony to look petty. (He was like “Petty!?”) Here’s the result:


Don’t let the look on his face fool you. He was more than happy to play along with my silly photo idea. That photo was his first event of the day, and I had to go home that evening, so I didn’t have time for an autograph with him later. I know from his interviews, and from all the ruckus, hollering, and laughter coming from the photo booth as I waited, that he’s a goofball and a hoot. Both Jeremy and Anthony are great guys to fans in their own way.

As a prior attendant at Ace Comic Con Midwest, I couldn’t help making comparisons throughout this con. I was a bit disappointed that the VIP combo this time didn’t come with a nifty tote bag and some goodies, like with Ace. I would’ve liked a notebook to write down my experiences, and contacts with any new friends I made. And as a newer con that just started last year, Celebrity Fan Fest was somewhat disorganized this year. I didn’t expect the hiccup with the delay plus long wait for Jeremy Renner’s autograph. At Ace, I waited maybe five minutes tops for an autograph with Elizabeth Olsen. Despite the delays, the volunteers did their best to work their way around the chaos. I appreciate them for making sure that I get my money’s worth.

Overall, I had an enjoyable experience. I’d love to see more of the MCU stars in the near future.

Short Story Acceptance #12, and Ace Comic Con!

Stupefying Stories bought “The Bird and Baby”: a short dark fantasy set in Russia and about a half-crow plague doctor who takes a baby under her wing. I’ve always been fascinated with the history and culture surrounding plague doctors. This story has influences from Berserk and Claymore, two of my favorite manga. Readers familiar with those series will detect a taste of the Japanese comic aesthetic in there, too.

It took 75 days for the editors to reach a final decision. When I queried after 40 days of waiting, they said that I was supposed to get a bump notice (which I didn’t), they were holding the story for a 3rd read, and they’d get back to me “in the next week or so.” One, two, then three weeks passed. I began to wonder if they would ever follow up.

I was staying in Chicago from October 12 to 16 for Ace Comic Con Midwest, where I met the MCU actors Tom Hiddleston and Elizabeth Olsen for photos and autographs. Plus I spent quality time with Bex: a Viable Paradise classmate and the coolest Chicagoan writer I know. This story acceptance came during my last day in Chicago, just as I was about to turn in for the night. I was double-checking my flight info to get back home when the acceptance email plopped into my inbox.  I distinctly remember sitting up in the couch, looking across at Bex, and sharing the news to them before we went to sleep. What a great way to end an already awesome weekend.

Bonus: Elizabeth Olsen and I channeling Dragon Ball nerdiness. She joked that the pose made her arms sore. (Lol really Elizabeth? C’mon Strongest Avenger, this must be your off day!) I’m 99% sure she doesn’t know what a fusion dance is, but I love that she did it with me anyway. She’s so adorkable.


Bonus #2: The Scarlet Witch fanart I showed for an autograph. I drew the dragon’s head to resemble Wanda’s hand.

Scarlet Witch fanart