balticon logoIf you’re here for a copy of my alternate history presentation, read on!

I consider Balticon my “local” con for many reasons — it was the first SF/F convention I attended as an adult (back in college), it’s currently located a few blocks from where I worked for almost a decade, and Baltimore is the city that I’ve adopted as home. So it was a genuine pleasure to be invited back for a second year to be on programming, and I had a blast. 


Since this convention is so local to me, I worked from home on Friday morning and headed up to the hotel (an epic 20 minute drive) later that afternoon. My first event was a panel on blurring genres, where we covered the usual ground of how genres are primarily a marketing tool. I was pleased that the moderator branched out a bit and we also talked about tropes that we’re tired of seeing in fiction, and ways to flip them to create good stories.

Afterward, I did my first loop around the dealers room and instantly fell in love with a tiny clay dragon. But it was expensive, and do you really need a tiny clay dragon? So I resisted and moved on. I enjoyed seeing my publisher John Edward Lawson in the last half of a panel on speculative fiction poetry, where I actually learned some stuff about speculative fiction poetry! (But don’t expect me to branch off anytime soon — I can barely managed to stay under a 90k word limit, you think I can manage a haiku?)

From there, I followed John to his next panel, which was an intriguing discussion about how it’s not possible for fiction to be apolitical. Things started off with a bang when one of the panelists immediately declared that the premise of the panel was false, and used Winnie the Pooh as his example of fiction removed from political agenda.

Was this panelist an old white guy, you ask? Yes, yes he was. But he remained polite, if stubborn, and the moderator did a fantastic job of wrangling the room’s discussion so that the conversation remained enthusiastic but civil. Topics such as representation were touched upon, and I submitted the idea that fiction doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and that the basic fact of who an author is and what privilege they have to create a work of fiction also applies.

But the end of the hour, we’re deconstructed the politics of Winnie the Pooh, and I loved every moment of it.

To recover, John and I enjoyed a late dinner and then I headed back home for the night.


I had a convention buddy with me for the weekend! A friend I met at Farpoint earlier this year thought a weekend of nerdiness sounded like a good idea, so it was lovely to have her accompany me and share the drive. We arrived back at the hotel late in the morning…and I promptly went to the dealers room to buy the adorable dragon. Sorry, not sorry.

My first event was the rapid-fire reading with my Broad Universe cohorts, where I read the prologue to Steel Blood. Unfortunately, I had to sneak out early to make it to an overlapping panel, where I had a great time discussing the evolution of fan-fiction. We discussed everything from when “fan-fiction” was literally fiction about SF/F fans to the origin of the term “slash,” to how fanfic exists on the internet today.

With some time to kill, I had a late lunch and then set up for my autograph session. I was bummed that my friend Jay Smith wasn’t able to make it to Balticon after a last-minute cancellation, but I muddled through on my own.

To close out the night, I enjoyed a great time at a social hosted by a new local organization — Diverse Writers & Artists of Speculative Fiction. They hosted a trivia contest, and I won a book! The trivia question was about Doctor Who, so are you really shocked?


Serious presentation was…not that serious, actually. I have no idea why I look so stern! (Photo: Jennifer Della’Zanna)

Sunday morning was my time to shine! I branched out from paneling and recycled the presentation on alternate history that I led earlier this year for the Uniontown Author Series. I had a fantastic turnout with some quality participation, which made me incredibly pleased. For the first interactive portion of the presentation, an audience member suggested the change of “President Garfield wasn’t assassinated in 1881.” I had a moment of panic, because I know next to nothing about either President Garfield or that period of American history, but I should have known better than to be worried. Because other people in the room jumped on the topic and had amazing suggestions because not only did they know about that period of American history, but they even knew specifics about everything from President Garfield’s political policy to how changes might have affected Franklin Roosevelt’s political career!


The next change we discussed was how the earth might look today if Islam had risen to global religious supremacy about a thousand years ago. This conversation took us down interesting paths related to everything from race relations and colonization to artwork and language.

To download my complete presentation, click the link below:

Alternate History Balticon 52

I followed up my presentation with a lovely lunch with some fellow writers, then it was back to the con for another panel! This time, we discussed how to deal with trolls in fandom, both online and at conventions. The conversation also branched into how to effectively (and safely) be a good ally out in the “real world.” I appreciate that fandom has grown and evolved, especially in the past few years, and committed itself to being a safe space for all fans.

The rain had started by that point, and I started getting messages on my phone asking if I was okay. It was a repeat of Confluence in 2016 — historic Ellicott City flooded again. I live on the opposite side of town, and on much higher ground, so my house and kitties are fine. But I’m devastated that one of my favorite places is once again in tatters, mostly due to poor zoning and storm-water management. A great example of why local politics are just as important as those on the national level.

Reading with Paul E. Cooley (Photo: John Edward Lawson)

But the con wasn’t over — after dinner, I shared a reading slot with Paul E. Cooley. I read a later section of Steel Blood, and he teased the opening of the upcoming book in his SF/thriller series. Afterward, I headed to my final event of the evening — a panel on making the jump from fan-fiction to original fiction, a journey I completed myself. The audience wasn’t huge, so it was a great opportunity to take their questions and discuss things applicable to them. I hope we were helpful!

The rain had stopped by the time I headed home, but the signs of the downpour were everywhere.


Because it’s over a holiday weekend, Balticon is a marathon rather than a sprint. I had two final panels on Monday morning. The first, on writing compelling villains, was well-attended and a great conversation. We could have easily devolved into a debate specifically on villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but we managed to reign ourselves in.

For my last event, I participated in a panel on writers workshops and how to maintain the writing momentum after going home. I happily plugged both Seton Hill University’s Writing Popular Fiction graduate program and the summer writer’s workshop the alumni hold, In Your Write Mind.

And that was a wrap! I headed home to write up my review of Solo: A Star Wars Story for Speculative Chic, and then I had a lovely evening having dinner with my extended family for Memorial Day. I can’t wait to do it all again next year!

The final haul: