by Rob Callahan
All of the annual CONvergence excitement has died down by now. You’ve all either had the time of your life or used it as an excuse to belittle nerds en masse, and life is generally moving on. Now is when folks like me weigh in. When the hubbub and clamor subsides and it’s time to talk quietly and calmly about what’s gone on – that’s when the Rob Callahans of the world jump in.
I don’t want to talk about costumes, though. Not interested in rehashing panels. Couldn’t care less about who hooked up with an Orion slave girl or who spent the weekend pining after some skinny, unattainable emo in an Edward costume. That’s all been done to death and none of it really reflects how I spend my time at conventions anyway, so I couldn’t even begin to be honest or insightful about it.
As a writer, I end up dividing most of my time between signing books and hanging around with other writers. There are plenty of us out there and, if you’ve followed me in the past, you’ve already heard me go on about the likes of John Jodzio, Dylan Hicks and Dessa. Then again, you’ve probably heard about them elsewhere as well. You can barely throw a rock in the Twin Cities’ lit community without hitting one of them. (Don’t, though. They’re nice, talented folks who don’t deserve the head trauma.) So let’s not spend a whole lot of time on them.
Instead, let’s talk about some of the other writers in town – some whose presence is strong within the con’s literary track, some who we don’t always see at the high profile book/bar combo events for which our fair city has become so well-known, and some, dare I say, of the greatest local writers you’ve never read.
5. Maggie Koerth-Baker
Maggie Koarth-Baker doesn’t compete in Literary Death Matches or make guest appearances at the Rockstar Storytellers, but she has quietly built a nice career for herself as a science writer. You’ve probably read her work in Discover, Popular Science, Scientific American and National Geographic News. You know, if you read those. She also takes a long, serious look at our bright and shiny future, aka the end of the world as we know it, in her new book Before the Lights Go Out.
Where she really shines, though, is as the science editor over at BoingBoing, where millions of monthly readers check in to supplement their intake of tech news, obscure pop culture, social commentary and humor. Her standing as a popular, charismatic and science-savvy blogger sort of makes her the Wil Wheaton of Carl Sagans. (And if you understood that, you probably already knew all about her. If you didn’t, you’ve got some remedial science and pop culture to study.)
4. Joseph Scrimshaw
Joseph Scrimshaw‘s name does pop up all over town, just about anywhere and any time someone brings up humor. He’s also been quietly branching out over the years, writing internationally performed plays and doing NPR commentary, and his branching has gotten less quiet in the last few months. He’s performed with Star Trek and MST3K cast members. He’s also been a featured performer on the JoCo Cruise and, most recently, at San Diego Comicon. He’s part of the writing team for MPR’s Wits, which becomes a national radio phenomenon next season. Pretty much everyone at CONvergence knows who he is, too, but not nearly as many knew he’s just put his first book out.
Comedy of Doom collects the short stories, essays and generally odd thoughts that Scrimshaw has had over the years. It’s plenty thick, full of content and probably the best-designed independent release I’ve ever read. It’s also very funny and occasionally poignant, like what Chuck Klosterman would write if he cared as much about Doctor Who as he does about Guns N’ Roses.
3. Dana M. Baird
You know you go to the Renaissance Festival and flirt with the workers in a terrible British accent every year (Go on. Admit it. Nobody here is judging you,) so you’ve probably flirted at Dana M. Baird once or twice. In character, she’s the busty, blonde and apparently brain-damaged Lady Belladonna DeVille of the musical troupe known as the Court Revelers. In real life, she’s also blonde. She’s also three books into the YA fantasy series The Spell Keeper Legends.
Her books tell a single, spiraling story from the perspectives of many different characters set in a world where the nobility plot and squabble and sorcery is as widely studied and highly respected as, say, the Liberal Arts are in our own reality. It’s engaging stuff. Something like Game of Thrones without all the gore and the uncomfortable incest, and well worth the time of the discriminating Swords & Sorcery aficionado.
2. Michael Merriam
Michael Merriam would have you believe there’s a whole other world just beyond the one we know where spirits, monsters and fae hang around thinking up new ways to cross over and fuck with mortals, just for fun. A lot of what I’ve read of his are the ideas with which they apparently come up.
More important than that, though, is that he writes characters you care about. I mean really care about. You may think you like your dog, your mom or that charming barista with all the tattoos down the corner at Dunn Bros., but those feelings are just peanuts compared to the extent with which you identify with this lot. This is the sort of writing that Sarah Harper calls “sigh-fi”, wherein you become acquainted with people and anthropomorphic people-ish things alike, who you sometimes just want to reach into the page and hug. Or throttle. Occasionally both.
1. Tales of the Unanticipated
Yes, I understand that Tales of the Unanticipated is not a writer. It’s an anthology zine. It does, however, have all the personality and voice of a real person. That’s probably due in large part to its show runner, Eric Heideman, who keeps it going and plays a big role in wrangling the talent for each issue.
This zine has published the early work of local talents the likes of Neil Gaiman and Lyda Morehouse, as well as interviews with Fritz Leiber, Ursula K. Le Guin and Gore Vidal. It’s the only zine to which I actively avoid submitting work, solely on the basis that it intimidates me. The editorial staff put a lot of work into fine-toothing the greater author community so as to direct readers like you and me toward some of the most finely honed up-and-coming writers out there. It’s a publication that consistently gives you authors to like before they get big, so it appeals to both lit lovers and hipsters alike.