A story of two discounts

August 6, 2014

The last time I paid children’s rates for anything was when I was 16, and spending a tedious, uncomfortable hot summer afternoon at my grandmother’s while my parents took my younger brother to the doctor.

My grandmother lived in a small one-bedroom apartment in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, not too far from Erasmus High School; she had moved there after my grandfather died some years earlier. There was nothing on television (and anyway, her apartment wasn’t air conditioned, so it was very uncomfortable), I knew nobody in the neighborhood, and I was bored in the restless way that teenagers can be.

I wandered the main shopping street, which was practically deserted — perhaps everyone was away at the beach, or perhaps it was a holiday of some sort, I don’t remember. Just remember the discomfort, the boredom, and finally the conviction that the only thing to do was find an air-conditioned movie theater and camp out there for a couple of hours.

I found it, and it was playing the latest horror film, Williard. I had no objection to seeing that — was sort of curious, actually — but I had exactly $1 in my pocket, enough for a half-price ticket, but not enough for an adult ticket.

So I went up to the box office, pushed my dollar bill through to the lady on the other side of the window and said, “One child’s ticket, please.”

She glared sternly at me from her throne in the booth. “How old are you?” she asked suspiciously.

I dropped my eyes and looked abashed.  “I’m almost 12,”  I muttered.  The woman stared at me for another moment and then gave me the ticket.

I really enjoyed that movie.

So on Monday, Jim and I decided we really needed a break and went to see Guardians of the Galaxy. It was a hot, damp evening and the last few weeks had been really difficult.

We drove over to the Sheepshead Bay Cinema, parked, had some rather good fried fish in the small fish restaurant across the way from the theatre, and then walked in. There was only one other couple on line — Mondays seem to be really slow — and when we asked for the tickets (Imax, 3-D, and yes, air-conditioning), the kid on the other side of the plexiglass window stared at us and asked,  “Senior discount?”

We shook our heads, but then Jim asked,  “How old do you have to be for senior discount?”

“Sixty, ” the kid said.

We looked at each other. “Yes,” Jim said.  “Senior discount.”

I really enjoyed that movie.

Readercon 25 report: Wish I were still there

July 16, 2014

Back from Readercon, both physically and emotionally. It went extremely well this year — for myself and, from what I can tell from the few blogs/tweets I’ve seen, for others as well. I said hello to some old friends, made a few new ones, and had a generally good time.

This is a brief rundown of my activities there; sorry if I don’t go into the details, but I’ve got a full schedule catching up after my days off. And apologies to all those whom I didn’t mention and should have!

I was part of several excellent (if I do say so myself) panels: Being an Editor Who Writes (where it was generally concluded that being both can actually be a good thing), Dealing with Discouragement (or how not to scream “This is it! I give up!” every time you get a rejection, something I still have to occasionally remember) and Educated Guesses: Tech Pros Writing SF, in which I was absolutely bowled over by the tech knowledge of the other participants in the panel — as a tech journalist who majored in English Lit & Creative Writing, I felt distinctly outclassed!

My workshop in How to Write for a Living When You Can’t Live Off Your Fiction went very well. I find it is always different, depending both on the other panelists (in this case, Leah Bobet, Adam Lipkin, and last-minute addition Sally Weiner Grotta were all incredibly helpful) and the folks who attend (who were likewise, contributing good info and asking great questions). The time went quickly, and several attendees said (and I agree with them) that having a full track at Readercon on practical issues like freelancing and contracts and agents and the like (such as the panel on Copyright Law and Your Writing, which I meant to attend but unfortunately missed) are an excellent idea.

I took part in two readings: One with my writers group Tabula Rasa (and got to hear wonderful stories from Sabrina Vourvoulias and Justin Key, two very talented writers), and one on Sunday morning, where I read a somewhat truncated version of my yet-unsold story “Sabbath Wine.” Thanks to all those who attended, despite the early hour (I know how hard it is to attend anything before 11 am on a Sunday morning at Readercon!).

I didn’t attend anywhere near the number of panels and readings I had planned (it’s hard to do that, what with stopping and talking to folks in the hallways and taking a half hour here and there to sit outside and check out one of the books I bought). I started the con, though, with a great one on Thursday evening: East, West and Everything Between: A Roundtable on Latin@ Speculative Fiction, which was really interesting and enlightening as well, especially (for me) the discussion of the issues of language; it gave me a few things to think hard about. (Here’s Scott Edelman’s YouTube video.)

When The Other Is You, a fascinating discussion at Readercon featuring Chesya Burke, Samuel Delany, Sabrina Vourvoulias, Peter Dube, Mikki Kendall, and Vandana Singh.

When The Other Is You, a fascinating discussion at Readercon featuring Chesya Burke, Samuel Delany, Sabrina Vourvoulias, Peter Dube, Mikki Kendall, and Vandana Singh.

I also attended readings by the always-wonderful Elizabeth Hand and the equally fine Sabrina Vourvoulias and Danielle Friedman (and A.C. Wise, who shared Danielle’s time). However, I missed the James Morrow reading — dammit! — and several others whom I had wanted to catch. I also caught the panels on The Science of Space Colony Living and Speculative Fiction and World War I, both of which I enjoyed greatly; and the panel on When the Other Is You, which I’ve seen described in several other blogs; my congratulations to the panelists for a fascinating and lively discussion. (Scott YouTubed this one as well.}

The highlight, though, was wandering accidentally into a conference room on Friday night where there was a circle of singers harmonizing on sea chanteys and British & Appalachian folk songs — it was just wonderful to hear, and the kind of just-by-chance event that I really treasure. Singers included (and I’ve snagged some of these names from Carlos Hernandez’s Facebook entry on it) Ellen Kushner, Liz Duffy Adams, Caitlyn Paxson, Amal El-Mohtar, Claire Suzanne Elizabeth Cooney and Patty Templeton. Thank you all.

Other things? On the plus side, I enjoyed wandering from party to party on Saturday night in the function rooms (and apologize to all those on the sixth floors whose parties I never actually got to). The bookstore is always wonderful; I never spend as much time as I’d like in there.

On the negative side, I wish the hotel had seen fit in its redesign to allow for more just-sitting-around space in the lobby, and more sound-deadening material in its bar — it got pretty loud in there and hard to hold a conversation, and that was before the DJ showed up. I also spoke to a lot of folks who had to twist themselves in a variety of knots to try to get to the hotel in the most budget-friendly way possible, and who as a result spent several hours on busses to Boston and then from Boston to the hotel.

On the whole, though, congratulations to everyone who had a part in creating Readercon 25.

Looking at old & new literature at Readercon

July 12, 2014

I’m at Readercon, and I’ve been especially impressed this year with the combination of old and new. Perhaps I’m prejudiced — no, it’s almost certain I’m prejudiced; I can’t help having my own feelings about the matter — but walking around the bookstore, I was caught between books by great new (mostly young) writers, many of whom I’d be reading for the first time, and used books by writers whom I loved as a youngster and whom I haven’t read in decades.

For example, I am sitting in my hotel room caught between A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar, a book by a writer that I’m very much looking forward to starting (and who is here this weekend), and Judgment on Janus, a 1963 novel by Andre Norton (Ace; 40 cents), which I think I read when I was about 12 years old. The two books were written 50 years apart, and probably have little in common except genre and the fact that they were both written by women. But I am going to savor them both, because one will be a discovery, and the other will be a re-discovery.

And it won’t be the only literary discovery I make this weekend. At a used bookstore down the road from the hotel, Jim found a volume of Bill Mauldin’s World War II Willy and Joe cartoons, along with essays. From a time and a place that belong to my parents rather than myself, and with references that I probably won’t get, but still worth reading for the feel of the times. And because I think it may bring me just a little closer to the world my father inhabited when he was young.

The moral of this brief blog entry? I’m not sure I want there to be one. Except that I am finding value in literature of the past — my past and others’ past — and the present and, hopefully, the future. And I hope that others can do the same.

Readercon has posted its schedule!

June 29, 2014

It’s almost Readercon time again!

The word-centric convention will be taking place July 10-13 at the Burlington Marriott in Burlington, MA. I’ll be participating in several panels (one of which Jim will be also be on — a first for us), a reading by my writing group Tabula Rasa, and a solo reading — and will be attending as many of the other panels as I can possibly get to.

I’m very much looking forward to it (and looking forward to saying hi to all my friends who will be there). Here’s my schedule (copied from the online program guide), for anyone who’s interested:

12:00 PM G Being an Editor Who Writes. Scott Edelman, Michael Kandel, Sandra Kasturi, Barbara Krasnoff (moderator), Warren Lapine, Ian Randal Strock. Few people haven’t heard of the editor-as-failed-author stereotype. Being both an editor and an author means living with your own harshest critic—yourself. While some editors-to-writers avoid this pitfall by writing nonfiction, there are those who manage to straddle the line, and even find success as fiction writers. How do they manage to quiet the inner editor, and how do they know when to turn it back on?

7:00 PM EM Tabula Rasa Group Reading. Jennifer Marie Brissett, Justin Key, Barbara Krasnoff (leader), Sabrina Vourvoulias. Tabula Rasa is an NYC-based writers group made up of experienced, published science fiction/fantasy/horror writers. Each member will be reading a portion of a story, published or not yet published.

8:00 PM ENL Dealing with Discouragement. Lisa (LJ) Cohen, F. Brett Cox, Gemma Files, Barbara Krasnoff (leader), Bud Sparhawk. As writers, we learn very early on to handle rejection, but how do you handle it when a story you’re sure is good is rejected by 20 different publications? Or when your carefully crafted novel is shrugged off by five different agents? Or your self-published novella is bought by only 25 people, all of them friends and relatives? Or your fantasy novel disappears from public view after a couple of weeks? This discussion, led by Barbara Krasnoff, will cover personal strategies to deal with disappointments, rejection, and other setbacks.

11:00 AM CO How to Write for a Living When You Can’t Live Off Your Fiction. Leah Bobet, Barbara Krasnoff (leader), Adam Lipkin. You’ve just been laid off from your staff job, you can’t live on the royalties from your fiction writing, and your significant other has taken a cut in pay. How do you pay the rent? Well, you can find freelance work writing articles, white papers, reviews, blogs, and other non-SFnal stuff. Despite today’s lean journalistic market, it’s still possible to make a living writing, editing, and/or publishing. Let’s talk about where and how you can sell yourself as a professional writer, whether blogging can be done for a living, and how else you can use your talent to keep the wolf from the door. Bring whatever ideas, sources, and contacts you have.

2:00 PM CO Educated Guesses: Tech Pros Writing SF. Saira Ali, John Chu, Jim Freund, Barbara Krasnoff, B Diane Martin (leader), Walt Williams. In response to a Silicon Valley technologist frustrated with the current state of science fiction, blogger Andrija Popovic wrote, “Change the question from ‘Why are people not writing about the future I’m making?’ to ‘Where can I find and support people who are writing about this future I see coming?’ Or better: tell your story.” Tech professionals like Ramez Naam, Brenda Cooper, and Daniel H. Wilson are doing just that. What do their portrayals of the future say about our present, and conversely, about the visions of the future that are driving today’s technological development?

10:30 AM ENV Reading: Barbara Krasnoff. I will probably be reading an unpublished story titled “Sabbath Wine.”

Went to see Our New Girl at the Atlantic Theater

June 23, 2014

Last Saturday, I went to see the play Our New Girl at the Atlantic Theater’s Stage 2. It’s a really interesting production; the playwright, Nancy Harris, skillfully sets up our expectations for each character and then completely turns them around.

Our New Girl is about an upper-middle-class London family with what is politely known as issues. The mother is a former corporate lawyer who, after quitting her job to better care for her young son, is trying desperately to figure out her place in the world by starting an olive oil export business, and trying to figure out how to deal with her obviously troubled boy. The father is an overtly charitable plastic surgeon who regularly goes to troubled areas in other parts of the world to help people damaged by war and disease — and away from his family. The son is a rather mysterious eight-year-old who says little but sees a lot, and occasionally bursts out in violent ways. And the new nanny (hired by the father without the knowledge of the mother) is a young, outwardly caring Irish young woman who is more damaged (by a mother’s suicide and father’s abuse) than she at first lets on.

It’s very well acted and written, and as several reviewers have noticed (such as Charles Isherwood, whose own review expresses pretty much how I felt about the play), comes across both as a thriller and a domestic drama. I found the ending particularly satisfying (which is unusual these days, when I find the endings of many play and films either too pat or too up-in-the-air).

Our New Girl is only playing until June 29th, but if you’re looking for a play to attend that is not a Broadway blockbuster (and that you don’t have to pawn your computer to afford), you could do a lot worse.

Carolyn Fireside: A remembrance

June 20, 2014

Difficult friends can be — difficult.

I just found out that my friend Carolyn Fireside has died. Carolyn was a very talented writer and editor; when I met her (fairly late in her life), she had mostly retired from editing and was making her living as a freelance ghostwriter. When I worked in Manhattan, we’d meet sometimes for lunch and talk about books and writing and the difficulties of New York City living.

She lived in a tiny apartment in a prestigious NYC neighborhood with a spoiled cat and more books than you could count. The few times I visited, she’d select a book out of the bookcase and force it on me, “You must read this!” she’d insist, ignoring my protests about lack of time and the other books I still had to get through.

She lived like an old-fashioned character out of the New Yorker, even — especially — when she no longer should have. She smoked until forced to stop; would go to the same restaurant every day for drinks and dinner even when she could no longer afford it; enjoyed the taste of salt and insisted on having a small dish of it next to her at meals, even though her doctors and friends tried to convince her that she was killing herself with it.

She loved to complain, but refused to fix whatever she was complaining about. She was generous in her praise, and said lovely things about my stories that I will never forget, and never forgive myself for not responding to more often.

In the end, most of her friends were forced to give up on her, because she was too frustrating to deal with. She finally had to sell her little apartment and move to a nursing home up in the Bronx, away from her books and her beloved Manhattan life. Jim visited her there several times, to set her up with the computer that was her only connection to her old life. I came with him once — the place was clean, and the staff seemed caring, and she had her own room, but it was basically only a hospital room with a bed, bathroom, a TV, and her computer. She would have been better off in what is called independent living, but circumstances landed her there instead.

It’s at these times that you try to tell yourself that it wasn’t your fault that you didn’t call more often, didn’t email more often, didn’t try to help more. Life gets in the way: work, other friends, aging parents, other worries — and the knowledge that, even if you did try to help, Carolyn would probably fight you every inch of the way.

So Carolyn, I don’t know that I could have done any differently than I did. And I am sorry. But I will remember you and miss you terribly. I hope that is enough.

Lunacon is next weekend

March 10, 2014

I’ve been going to the Lunacon SF convention for quite a few years now (okay, I missed a few at one point), but I’ve never actually participated before. I’d leave that to Jim, while I’d hang out, sit in on a few panels, and just take it easy.

Not this year. This year — unless things change, since as I understand it, the schedule hasn’t been set in stone yet — I’m doing five, count ‘em, five panels, and a reading.

So for all you East Coasters who think they might come — I’d recommend it, it sounds like there will be some very interesting stuff going on. Lunacon is happening this weekend, March 14 – 16, at the Westchester Hilton in Rye Brook, NY.

Here’s my schedule. Come on by and say hello.


7 pm
Gender Parity
Participants: Barbara Krasnoff (moderator), James Daniel Ross, Sarah Avery, Felicia Herman, Catt Kingsgrave
What is wrong with our literature and media? What’s right? There is an ongoing global change and acceptance, but it doesn’t seem to be enough. So what can we do about it?


Seymour Boton
Currently, I plan to read an unpublished short story called “Sophia’s Legacy” that fits into what’s developing into a cycle of stories involving two Jewish-American families.

7 pm
What IS it about we people
Elijah Budd
Participants: Barbara Krasnoff (moderator), James Daniel Ross, James Cambias, Richard Herr,Walter H. Hunt
What are humans portrayed in stories as intuititive, resourceful and ultimately successful? Are we really like that, or is it just a crappy plot device? Take a look at our history, and all the mistakes… especially when dealing with other populations Who are we really, and what will we be like when we interact with other civilizations?

8:30 pm
Post-Binary Gender
Participants: Barbara Krasnoff (moderator), Jared R. Lopatin, David Sklar, Ariel Cinii
Post-binary gender in SF is the acknowledgement that gender is more complex than the Western cultural norm of two genders (female and male): that there are more genders than two, that gender can be fluid, that gender exists in many forms.


11 am
The Resurgence of the Short(er) Story
Participants: Ken Altabef, Alex Shvartsman, Sheila Williams, Barbara Krasnoff, James Chambers
So many collections, print and online magazines and other outlets — Is this a fad? Or, do readers really like short fiction again?

1:30 pm
Geek Job Hunter’s Meet-up
Westchester Ballroom A3
Lynn E. Cohen Koehler (moderator), William Freedman, Laura Soule, Edward X Young,Barbara Krasnoff
Looking for a job? Any job? Trying to break into the publishing business? We’ll talk tips, strategies and perhaps a few leads… Be sure to bring your resume


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