A is for Awesome Authors, Apex, and an Anthology


Now that the initial dread and anticipation of launching a Kickstarter has passed, I am having a blast. That sense of impending doom, for me, essentially boiled down to two fears: one) will backers like the concept and two) will they like it enough so I can ensure everyone on the project is treated well.

So far? So good! It’s only been a few days, and we’re already half-funded. Due to the rapid but steady pace of our milestones, I’ve posted more updates than I initially planned. Now that we’re mid-point, I can slow down a bit to avoid flooding our backers’ InBoxes. This is all very exciting, either way. Thanks so much for supporting Upside Down!

Here are the updates about tropes I’ve posted thus far, along with a silly meme that we cooked up:

Until next time… I’ve got loads of writing to do and a bit of fake spring cleaning. We’re due for 21 inches of snow next week!

Announcing our Kickstarter for a Trope-Smashing Anthology


Today, Hugo-nominated Apex Book Company is pleased to announce the launch of a Kickstarter for Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling. The anthology’s concept highlights the long-standing tradition of writers who tackle tired tropes or clichés prevalent in popular media and twist them to tell fresh and interesting stories.

Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling is edited by Monica Valentinelli and Jaym Gates. Each author in this collection has examined a specific trope or cliché that includes: Chainmaille Bikini, The Black Man Dies First, Superhero Had a Crappy Childhood, Yellow Peril, and The Chosen One.

The anthology features cover art by award-winning artist Galen Dara, and includes speculative stories from Maurice Broaddus, Anton Strout, Shanna Germain, Sara Harvey, Delilah Dawson, John Hornor Jacobs, Rahul Kanakia, Alethea Kontis, Haralambi Markov, Sunil Patel, Kat Richardson, Nisi Shawl, Alyssa Wong, and many others.

In addition to fiction, planned stretch goals will further enhance the collection’s theme and presentation by adding essays about tropes and clichés. Backers may also add additional books and a subscription to Apex Magazine to further support Apex Book Company and ensure the success of this unique collection.

To find out more about Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling, be sure to watch for milestone-related updates from the editors on the Kickstarter at Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling Kickstarter or on the Apex Book Company website at www.apexbookcompany.com.

On Surviving and Planning for Conventions

Kitten and Fish Avatar

It’s taken me many years to finalize a plan for approaching conventions, and I wanted to put my thoughts into writing today because I feel this (e.g. me getting a touch personal here) might help some of you who are struggling with this as I once have. I’ve opened comments up on this post if you have additional tips to share; hopefully some good discussions can be had. Who knows? Maybe I’ll learn a thing or two from you as well.

Size, People, and Purpose

First and foremost, I want to stress that convention experiences are often shaped by three things: size, the people involved, and its purpose. The smaller the show, the more visible the culture of that convention and its internal politics are. Thus, when something goes wrong all guests and attendees deal with the fallout in some fashion or, alternatively, benefit from all the wheels turning at the right time. The size of a convention ultimately leads to issues when there is a personality conflict or people who act in a manner that is accepted by one group, but condemned by total strangers(2). Now, we all have our personality quirks–myself included–and those tend to stick out in smaller groups. For example, one of my quirks is that I tend to laugh when I’m nervous and, if I’m REALLY uncomfortable, I’ll default to my total smartass state of being either on the inside (brain) or on the outside (foot-in-mouth disease). The more comfortable I am, the quieter I get or, alternatively, the more of my natural weirdness I can unleash upon the unsuspecting masses. Yeah, I know… Eyebrow-raising, eh?(3)

Okay, phew! I’m sure you have your own quirks as well. My point to sharing that bit, is that we all have them. Occasionally, I’ve found this translates into social anxiety with respect to meeting new people and this compounds the more people who have social anxiety at the same damn time. At a smaller show, it might seem like it’s easy to meet people–and it is–but often smaller shows will draw local folks who already know one another. This means that a smaller show can be filled with cliques that either get along great and welcome new people, or don’t get along and form silos. At a larger convention(4), on the other hand, while the general culture might be apparent, the specific personality issues aren’t as visible because you simply have more people.

Before I get to specific tips navigating shows, I want to talk about how important the purpose of a convention is and the demographic. For literary-based conventions, the purpose is generally to discuss books and interact with authors. Sounds simple enough, right? For me, I don’t feel this is specific enough to draw me to a show unless I am going there to build relationships. Make no mistake: small cons, or even con offshoots(5), are fantastic to get to know people provided there’s enough folks there who have the same goal. Not everyone does–especially with respect to writers. Maybe a fan on the concom petitioned to get [Insert Very Famous Author Here] at the show, because a book she wrote changed his life. Maybe a parent has a child who wants to write like said author, or a struggling writer wants to get to know that person for up close and personal advice. I’m oversimplifying here, but my point is that there are many reasons to get to know somebody, and that is as true at conventions as it is in Real LifeTM.

In many cases, my experience has been that the concom is comprised of volunteers who have invited an individual in order to honor their work and spend time with them. This person’s needs tend to eclipse all other guests, in part because there might be money involved or a legal agreement, such as a contract, to ensure they’re well taken care of. After all, someone like GRRM doesn’t need to go to cons, but does as a way of giving back to the community. Now, it can feel as if the A-list guests get a certain treatment and all other guests get the B or C, because that is exactly what’s happening behind-the-scenes. Every convention guest, however, knows that GRRM is a Very Famous AuthorTM and deserves to be a GOH. There is no need for any host to rub that in their guest’s faces by treating them poorly, or by reminding them just how much they don’t matter(6).

Personally, I often have better luck at larger shows for the simple fact there is more to do. I can watch or play a demo, visit Artist’s Alley, explore the dealer hall, listen to a reading, go to a panel or signing, etc. and not be, as my British friends like to say, spoilt for choice. Being on the professional side of the equation, larger shows are also harder to conduct business meetings, because fans have to come first due to the way the schedule is set up. Saturday morning, for example, at any convention is a logistical nightmare for portfolio reviews or business discussions. Sunday afternoon, on the other hand, can be a lot better provided most folks have cleared out by then. Here, too, there might be the sense of A-list, etc. but it’s not as omnipresent in a larger crowd. Still, you can glean a lot of insight from watching creators with large fanbases interact with their fans and other professionals. It greatly helps to be a fly on the wall, if you can, because you can learn a lot about conducting yourself at a convention when you’ve got a public profile. Always, always, always think about what might happen if you were in their shoes, because one day? You just might be.

To Go Or Not To Go

Now that you’ve (hopefully) gotten a sense of how I feel about cons in general, I’m going to talk about some of the questions I ask myself outside of the basics. Some of these questions use the word “research”; sometimes, I will attend a show to check it out before I participate in programming, especially if I’ve heard a lot of things about it.

  • Why am I going to this show? Is it to build relationships, see folks I haven’t visited with in a while, maintain business dealings, or use it for research?(7)
  • How much will it set me back? If the cost is too high, is there a similar con I can go to for the same reason?
  • What does the show’s website look like? Do they have programming listed from last year?
  • What are the convention’s policies toward harassment? Disability/access issues? Cosplayers?
  • Do I know the guests? Anybody who’s going?

Though this is a fairly short list, my criteria tends to be impacted heavily by the people involved. If I am expected to show up by myself, not knowing a single person, then I typically don’t bother unless I have to go (e.g. major award, publisher’s/agent’s recommendation, etc.). Or, alternatively, if I’m invited to a show I’ve been to and the same people, year after year, are invited with few changes? Then, I might withdraw and/or recommend other guests.

Con Prep

I’m channeling a little bit of my neuroses here, because the last time I told someone all the things I do for con rep, I got the incredulous look. Thankfully, I’m sitting here behind a computer screen ergo… Hrmm… I kind of dig the lists I’ve got started, so let’s go with that! Please note: I’m assuming that if you are a Mature Responsible AdultTM you don’t need things like budgeting/financial advice, so I’m going to skip talking about the monies.


These are the things I usually bring with me to a convention.

    1. Silver Sharpie–great for signings!
    2. Portable USB rechargeable battery
    3. Bookplates
    4. Business cards: one with personal info for business associates, one generic for fans
    5. Small dice games (I dig Rory’s Cubes for storytelling-on-the-fly and Zombie Dice)
    6. Extra notebook for note-taking and pens, pens, pens
    7. Mini-Larabars for emergency purposes.


    1. Programming: In addition to signing up, I also watch the schedule when it goes live for panels I might be interested in.
    2. Dealer Hall: I find out what the hours are, and if any publishers/authors have a booth.
    3. Meetings: I set up business or personal meetings in advance with a half-hour buffer on either side in case of delays. Mileage varies on when meetings can be scheduled. This greatly depends upon the show, but in general? Don’t wait until the last, possible minute and, for the love of the gods, don’t set up a meeting with someone if you just want to shoot the shit. Every writer, myself included, needs to act out of self-interest at these shows in order to sell books, ink deals, continue getting work. Scheduling a meeting without actually needing to is bad form.
    4. Digi-Cal: I then plug programming into my phone, and I do this with impunity planning for: down/travel/sleep/flex/fitness time, meals, everything. Well, maybe not everything…but you get the idea. I strongly recommend planning downtime if you are overwhelmed by The People! to save your sanity.

Though my schedule might not be final at that pre-planning stage, what I have is a working template I can massage as needed. Having a visible schedule also helps me avoid accidentally leaning on a friend or acquaintance too much, which can happen if I’m having a crappy time.

As the convention approaches, I’ll also start outlining what I’m going to say on the panel as I have the tendency to drop F-bombs and get ranty(8) on certain topics which is not fair to my fellow panelists. So, I’ll use an outline technique to frame the points I want to make and, additionally, the questions that I might ask of my fellow panelists should the opportunity arise. If I get the panel list back and I can’t speak on a topic effortlessly, then I will also back out and ask to switch or recommend someone else whom I’ve touched base with ahead of time.

Alcohol and Parties

All right, I’m getting into “How many words did I write on this topic?”-land at this point, so I’d like to end this by talking about alcohol and socializing into the wee hours of the morning. Typically, I don’t drink more than a few cocktails unless I know the people I’m hanging out with well. If I do, I nurse those suckers for as long as possible. Some people go to conventions to party, sure, but that person is not me. I don’t mean that I’m against it, mind you, but I think about it like this: the folks I meet at a con are either people I’ll work with or plan on working with some day. Copious amounts of alcohol plus embarrassing moments tends to fare badly long-term, especially since I often communicate electronically with folks. If I don’t go to shows very often, then I have less chances to make a positive impression–quirks and all. I’d much rather karaoke or do something equally embarrassing all on my own, like play a game of pool, then get drunk in front of total strangers.

Of course, I’m talking about safety protocols. Your mileage will vary on this, but again… This goes back to the reason why you are going to a show. I often connect with my male friends and ask them to be my con husband; this is a person I know well (or trust) who will escort me back to my hotel, who I can signal if I’m feeling uncomfortable in a given situation, etc. My safety concerns might mean I cut my night short, or I stick to one or two parties instead of attending room parties on various floors. If a con husband (or trusted bestie, etc.) doesn’t make sense for you, then it doesn’t. But, at the very minimum, if you are going to any party that involves alcohol (or takes place outside of your hotel) I strongly recommend that you buddy up with a friend ahead of time. Apologies for launching into nagging mode, but I think this (partnering up) is hugely important, and I have many, many reasons/stories/etc. why I’m repeating myself on this.

Phew! I cannot believe how much I wrote on this subject. If you have advice I didn’t cover, or want to ask for clarification, please post. I want to hear your thoughts, and I’m sure my readers will as well.


So many this time they get their own header…

(1) This may or may not be a subtle hint that I’d actually like to write for the comic and/or Frog Thor!
(a) Yes, this is a footnote off of the original and I am shameless. Mea culpa.
(2) I am not referring to harassment here, as I feel that is a separate (but possibly related) issue. Rather, I’m painting the scenario broadly because harassment deserves its own blog post, and the topic has been covered extensively by People Smarter And More Experienced Than Me. Here, what I’m alluding to are the Five Geek Social Fallacies, or problems that might arise due to social awkwardness.
(3) No, no examples. Promised myself that I’d stop over-explaining. Really, the whole fun in getting to know someone is to pick up on this crap yourself.
(4) Say “small” is less than 5,000 people, and “large” tends to be 25K and up.
(5) By offshoots, I mean: programming tracks, workshops, etc. that are included under the primary show’s umbrella, but are run separately.
(6) Reasons why I don’t return to a con are actually very few, outside of the logistics for cost and time involved. Being treated poorly as a guest is a big ‘un, as well as not being able to provide constructive feedback.
(7) I don’t typically go to shows with the sole intent of having fun.
(8) Remember what I said about my quirks, earlier? Underneath this mild-mannered exterior, lies a fiery heart of deep, deep passion. This is one Italian stereotype I can pretty much guarantee, and my personality can sometimes eclipse others who are quieter and more introverted than I am. I try to be aware of the folks involved, because at a con? It’s their con, too. It’s not just about what I’m getting out of it.

    Mood: Eyebrow raise.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: 5 minus 3
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: 60
    In My Ears: Some Final Fantasy heavy metal nonsense.
    Game Last Played: Pandemic (Lost again.)
    Book Last Read: Shooooooot… There’s a pile I’m working through…
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: House
    Latest Artistic Project: Pain-in-the-butt ombre earrings.
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Gods, Memes, and Monsters
    Latest Game Release: Dread Names, Red List for Vampire: the Masquerade and Ghosts in the Black for the Firefly RPG.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update and My Departure from the Conan RPG.

1930s Catsup and a Blog Challenge for Moi

Mushu Avatar

I’ve been spending a lot of time listening as opposed to pontificating lately, so my blog has fallen into the low post tides. When I asked what folks wanted to hear about the answers were (thankfully) not about writing(1) persay, but odds and ends. “The plight of the proletariat worker in today’s modern decadent capitalistic society” was one topic, and my friend Eryn joked about a “how to put your big girl pants on” post as well. I also had a request to share some Italian folk tales, which I’ll be pulling from my library. If you have ideas for a “Challenge Monica” post, share ’em in the comments below!(2)

On to catsup! Or is it ketchup? According to the Searchlight Recipe Book(3) published by The Household Magazine in Topeka, Kansas, it’s definitely catsup even though ketchup came first. And, what’s more, there’s multiple varieties of catsup as well, for at this point it roughly translates to sauce. Perhaps this is why there’s Apple, Cranberry, Raisin Cookies, and Ripe Cucumber recipes listed as options for catsup as well. First published in 1931, the Searchlight Recipe Book is, in point of fact, available on Amazon.com used. Proving once again, that if you can name an obscure book, they’ve probably got it.

Now, at this point in culinary history, catsup had been commercially produced for a number of years(4) but, many cookbooks ceased to list its ingredients because catsup was available to buy. This is partly why Searchlight fascinates me from a culinary perspective, because the recipes in this book are numerous indeed. From sugar sirup (Keeping with the original spelling) to oatmeal croquettes, ambrosia ice cream, and squirrel stew, this recipe book paints and interesting depiction of the ingredients available in the 1930s and 40s as well as the cultures involved. For example, there are recipes for Chow Mein(5) and Chop Suey, but the instructions for spaghetti are for cooking the pasta as opposed to making a dish.

Tomato Catsup

5 Quarts Tomato Pulp
2 Teaspoons Cinnamon
1 Teaspoon Paprika
1 Tablespoon Mixed Spices
1 Tablespoon Mustard
2 1/2 Cups Vinegar
3 Tablespoons Black Pepper
3 Tablespoons Salt
1 Large Onion, Chopped
3 Tablespoons, Cold Water

Prepare tomato pulp by washing and chopping tomatoes, cooking until soft, and rubbing through a sieve. Tie whole spices and onion in a thin bag. Mix mustard with cold water. Combine all ingredients. Cook slowly, stirring frequently, until thick.

For those of you who are mildly curious, here are the listed ingredients for Heinz Ketchup according to this website: Tomato Concentrate, Distilled Vinegar, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup(6), Salt, Spice, Onion Powder, Natural Flavoring.

(1) I feel generic writing advice tends to make a lot of new writers insecure, because if something doesn’t fit it they internalize that advice as if they’re doing something wrong. I’d much rather spend my time motivating folks to actually write, because so much is learned through experience and taking risks.

(2) Summarily, troll spray will be used liberally and without discretion should they drop by in the comments. I realize some of you might be championing troll rights, but this is not that space.

(3) I try to collect vintage or historical cookbooks when I can, and this one was a gift from a relative.

(4) Here’s a link to the history of catsup. “Ketchup comes from the Hokkien Chinese word, kê-tsiap, the name of a sauce derived from fermented fish.”

(5) Not sure if you’ve seen it, but the documentary The Search for General Tso addresses the availability of Chinese food in America specifically.

(6) High Fructose Corn Syrup and Corn Syrup are sugar in disguise. No wonder why folks abandoned the original recipe.

Get Your ‘Verse on! Firefly RPG on Sale, Pre-Order Phrasebook, and SCIENCE

Firefly RPG Front Cover

Want to fly up and into the black? Throughout the month of February, the Firefly RPG corebook is half off over at DriveThruRPG!

Firefly Dictionary_CVR front new copy

In other news, the upcoming Firefly: The Gorramn Shiniest Language Guide and Dictionary in the ‘Verse is available for pre-order at a bookstore near you, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Before I dash, I thought I’d share with you this science-y video that answers the question: could the Firefly Universe exist? Shiny!

Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore near you.


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