Speculative San Antonio: Science Fiction Author KB Rylander

San Antonio author KB Rylander has won the Jim Baen Memorial Award.

I met KB Rylander a couple years ago at Armadillcon, simply excited to run into yet another San Antonio author at the convention.

Turns out KB wasn’t just another emerging writer from the Alamo City, but a very good emerging writer from the Alamo City. By the time I sat down at the bar with her at the next Armadillocon, her short story “We Fly” had won the 2015 Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Award.

The work I’ve read from her so far explores some familiar sf tropes like uploaded consciousness and generation ships, but always with an engaging focus on the humanity of its characters. The people in her stories feel real and idiosyncratic — and as a result it’s easy to become absorbed in her prose.

Make no mistake, KB Rylander is a writer to watch.

In addition to being your first professional publication, your story “We Fly” won the Jim Baen Short Story Award. Could you talk a little about what the award is, about your story and why it appealed to the judges?

The Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Award is sponsored by Baen Books and the National Space Society and is for near-future science fiction involving manned space exploration. Anyone can enter who hasn’t already won and there is no entry fee, so check it out!

My story “We Fly” is about a woman whose consciousness was uploaded into an interstellar probe to search for habitable planets. After decades of travel she awakens at her destination but something is wrong. She has unknown errors in her processors and her memories are giving her contradictory clues.

My idea for this story came from the logistics of exploring planets outside our solar system and how probes make sense given the extraordinary travel times. That said, since communication with earth might take years those probes are going to have to be highly intelligent and self-sufficient. When I decided to use an uploaded human mind the central idea for this story popped into my head. I can’t say what that idea was because it spoils the ending, but it allowed me to have a lot of fun writing memories that the character experiences within the story and give clues within those flashbacks.

I think it appealed to the judges because the reader is anchored close to the human struggles of the characters while still having a cool science fiction premise. I suspect it also did well because of the strength of the last couple of lines. That last image you leave a reader makes a huge impact in their overall satisfaction of the piece. I lucked out on this one because “We Fly” was one of those stories that just gave me the right ending before I’d even finished the first draft.

Writing is sort of a family business, from what I understand, as your mom also wrote (or still writes) fiction. How did growing up around a writing parent prepare you for what you’re doing now?

My mother is a writer and was writing seriously when I was a kid. She has unfortunately taken a twenty year break but I’m trying to nudge her back into it!

Even though I wasn’t planning to be a writer myself, I often attended writing conferences and lectures with my mom and occasionally sat in on her writers group listening to everyone give critiques.

We were a family of readers and my mom always talked about what was good writing and what wasn’t, and I listened and learned.

Needless to say, she has been a huge influence on my writing.

I think part of my hesitance to pursue it myself was seeing how difficult it is to succeed, but that has also prepared me to have realistic expectations.

How long have you been writing and when did you start sending out work for publication?

I never thought I wanted to be a writer, but looking back all the signs were there. I’ve been writing stories for fun my whole life, but got serious about it five years ago after my daughter was born.

My whole childhood I thought I was going to be a scientist, but by college my interests had shifted to history and linguistics. I kept running into the same problem that I hated the idea of specializing in any one field. At some point I realized a writer can do All The Things.

That said, it felt like an impossible goal because there are so many people trying to make it in this field and so few people succeed. I decided to give it my all and gave myself permission to fail, which I needed.

I spent the first couple of years of serious writing working on novels and shifted over to short stories in 2013. I started submitting them in 2014.

So far, I’ve only read short work from you. Are you working on any novel-length projects?

I have a young adult novel in the works.  It’s near future science fiction about a genetically engineered teenage girl trying to keep her siblings alive after 99% of Earth’s population drops dead.

I wrote the zero draft in 2011 and 2012 and put it aside. I rewrote half of it in November and hope to get it ready for submission this year.

Do you only write science fiction or do you work in other genres as well?

Most of what I write is science fiction but I write some fantasy.  I dabble with non-speculative fiction as well.

I feel most comfortable with middle grade and young adult because I’ve read so much more of it. I can’t picture myself writing a novel that isn’t MG or YA but you never know.

Who are some of the writers whose work inspired you, and what have you learned from them?

This is a tough question because there are so many wonderful books and short stories that have inspired me in different ways.

Honestly I think it’s teachers who inspired me more than anyone else.  My mother is one.  Another is my eighth grade English teacher Kim McIntire who introduced me to a ton of classic science fiction. We spent a whole semester just on Ray Bradbury works. We read The Martian Chronicles and Dandelion Wine and dozens of his short stories.

My high school English teacher Tess Morris was probably the best teacher I ever had, college included.  She challenged me and we read a lot of great literature.  My favorite was As I Lay Dying. I loved Faulkner’s use of POV and how he tossed rules out the window. One of our assignments was to write missing chapters of the novel. I had a lot of fun playing with strange POVs and stream-of-consciousness. From there I went on a Faulkner binge and was first introduced to the concept of a circular structure reading Light in August. Frankly, I hated that novel, but it started me thinking about writing in a different way.

In college I devoured the Harry Potter series and loved it much as I loved Lord of the Rings as a kid. In those books the writing just needs to get out of the way so the reader can immerse in the story.

The Book Thief is one of my favorite books and I put it right up there with To Kill a Mockingbird. The writing is just so darn beautiful. If I could write half that well one day I’ll die happy.

What’s next for KB Rylander? Where else can readers find your work?

I’ve got a short story coming out in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction sometime this year.  It’s called “Last One Out.”  It’s about the last woman on Earth and her robot companion and is set in Sweden, where I spend a lot time.  It’s one of my favorite things I’ve written.


Speculative San Antonio: Renee Babcock and Jonathan Miles discuss World Fantasy 2017 in the Alamo City

Texans Michelle Villafranca, Vincent Villafranca, Jonathan Miles and Renee Babcock celebrate FACT's successful bid for the 2017 World Fantasy Convention at the 2015 World Fantasy Convention, held earlier this month in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Photo by Meg Turville-Heitz.

Just four years after serving as site of the 2013 World Science Fiction Convention, San Antonio will play host to yet another major speculative fiction show: World Fantasy 2017.

The World Fantasy board made the venue selection this month at 2015 WFC in Saratoga Springs, New York. Austin’s Fandom Association of Central Texas (FACT) — which hosts the annual Armadillocon and ran two prior World Fantasy cons — placed the winning bid.

While World Fantasy draws a smaller attendance than media-heavy shows such as the Alamo City Comic Con, it dependably pulls major star power from the world of fantasy literature and gives fans rare opportunity to interact with favorite authors, artists and editors. It’s a con that’s less about the dealer’s room and photo ops than professionals and aspiring professionals doing business, networking and talking craft.

I asked longtime FACT members Renee Babcock and Jonathan Miles, the convention’s co-chairs, to talk about how the site selection process went down and what fans and pros can expect from WFC 2017.

FACT knows its way around a World Fantasy Convention, having run one in 2000, then in 2006. Why bring this one to San Antonio rather than Austin, where you had success in 2006?

We wanted to bring World Fantasy back to Central Texas so we took a look at the cities that were appropriate — both in having the facilities necessary and having a reputation that would make people want to go to World Fantasy there. Pretty quickly, we narrowed the candidates down to San Antonio and Austin. While we have run a World Fantasy in Corpus Christi before, the distance caused a lot of problems and we preferred not to go that far afield again.Sadly, it’s become increasingly more difficult to find hotels in Austin that meet the unique space requirements of World Fantasy and that are able to work with us in the Fall, due to the various festivals and the F1 race happening in the same time frame. San Antonio has a vibrant cultural and restaurant scene, appropriate hotel space, easy access to an international airport, and it seemed obvious to us that San Antonio would be perfect. It also helped that a lot of the World Fantasy Board knew San Antonio from the two previous Worldcons, so we didn’t have to explain how good a fit it would be for World Fantasy. 

World Fantasy is a considerably smaller show than WorldCon, but as we all know, attendance isn’t the only measure of a con’s significance. Why should South and Central Texas fans be excited World Fantasy is landing in San Antonio in 2017?

World Fantasy is unique because it’s primarily an industry event, despite being run by fan organizations. This means there is an unusually high number of writers, artists, editors, publishers and agents from all over the world who will be in attendance. It’s a tremendous opportunity to meet some of your favorites working in the field of fantasy. At the most recent World Fantasy in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., you could have seen over a hundred authors and artists, including Steven Erikson, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Julie Czerneda, L.E. Modessit and Charles Vess.World Fantasy is a fairly intimate convention, despite still being a major convention. There are so many opportunities to sit and talk to people about the field, about books, art, the things we love, often over a drink in the bar. 

Programming in general is lighter at World Fantasy than at a lot of other cons, which allows for those opportunities. Our hotel in San Antonio has a spacious bar, and we will have a large overflow room that is attached. That’s because a lot of business gets done in the bar, both professional and social.  World Fantasy is one of those conventions where you are as likely to find well-known authors at the bar chatting as you are to find them at panels. There is also a single mass autographing on Friday night, which is a lot of fun. It’s a great chance to meet your favorites and get books signed.

Can people already pay for memberships? If so, how do they grab one, and what’s the advantage of doing so early?

People may buy a membership online now for $150 at http://www.fact.org/wfc2017/. This is the cheapest our membership rate will ever be, and the rate will be going up sometime in the late spring.  In addition, World Fantasy has a strict attendance cap. Once we’ve reached that cap, we will no longer be able to sell memberships. Several of the last World Fantasies have sold out their cap well before the convention, so we recommend getting in while you can.

Do you know who the guests will be, or is it too early to discuss that?

We are in discussion on who we want to bring in as guests. Once we have guests to announce, they will be announced on our website as well as our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/wfc2017/).

Any thoughts on the flavor of this particular show? How might it be different from previous World Fantasies? Are there any past mistakes you’re hoping to avoid?

It’s hard to say what the flavor of this particular World Fantasy will be this far out. Part of the joy of World Fantasy is how the feel of the convention changes depending on the location. While there are a lot of authors who will go to almost every World Fantasy, there are also a good number of authors who will only go when it’s nearby. Since we haven’t had one in Texas for a while, we expect to see a lot of authors who live in the area to come on down.

Our theme is secret history, and that will inform at least one track of the programming. One of the best things about World Fantasy is how enthusiastic authors can be when you have interesting panels and we believe we will have great programming. Also, given the location, we’re hoping to show off San Antonio a bit to convince more authors to visit more often.

Sadly, just as all happy families are alike and each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, every convention will have areas that will be seen as not as good or could have been done better. There are plenty of past mistakes that we will seek to avoid; however, we just as arduously hope to not make any new mistakes, though we probably will.

The two of you oversaw FACT’s bid for the show. Could you talk about the challenges of putting the bid together?

It’s a little harder putting a bid together in a different city from where you live. We had a lot of help from Charles and Willie Siros, who initiated contact with the Wyndham and really got the ball rolling for us with the hotel and fleshing out our theme. The four of us went to San Antonio to tour the hotel and meet with them, make sure it would fit our needs. And then of course, we had to put together a bid packet for the World Fantasy board and email it to them prior to our arrival in Saratoga Springs, so that they had enough time to review the materials and ask any questions prior to the board meetings on site at WFC.

What was San Antonio’s and FACT’s ultimate selling point to the committee?

They were impressed with the completeness of our bid presentation. The bidding requirements are available on the World Fantasy website (http://www.worldfantasy.org/), and we made sure we hit all the requirements in our proposal. In addition, we have a track record of having run two successful World Fantasy conventions in 2000 (Corpus Christi) and 2006 (Austin). Finally, the Riverwalk area is known to and liked by a lot of people in the fantasy community, because of the two WorldCons that have been held there. The last several World Fantasies have been in the Northeast, and I do think the World Fantasy board are also looking forward to bringing WFC further west in 2017.

Will you be looking for volunteers and program participants in San Antonio? If so, how does someone get in touch?

We will absolutely be looking for volunteers! A con this size does not run without a strong group of volunteers. We will put up information on our website and our Facebook page about reaching out for volunteer opportunities in the near future.

There’s a website but it’s pretty bare bones at this point. When can folks expect it to expand and include more information?

The current website is and was only intended to be temporary. We wanted to make sure we had a web presence and  the ability to sell memberships immediately if we won the bid for 2017. We are in the process of securing our permanent domain and we hope to have our permanent website up and running early in the new year.

How to conquer the trivia world

Scott and his team display the spoils of victory.

By Scott A. Cupp

Since Bill Crider asked so nicely, I thought I would give a detailed account of the Challenge Entertainment National Trivia Finals that I competed in on Saturday, August 29. I play trivia at least once a week, sometimes two or three times. There is the occasional week with 4. It is a team event. You grab a group and compete together. In the four years I have been competing I have had several teams. Initially I walked into a bar and found out that a trivia contest happened on Monday nights. I went back and competed by myself (our favorite trivia jockey would say I was playing with myself in public). I finished 3rd and won $10 in bar money.

The format is simple. There are 3 rounds of 3 questions in a variety of subjects, like Sports, Literature, History, and Vocabulary. There are three point values per round – 6, 4, and 2. The team decides what point value they want to assign to a question, based on their knowledge If they know the question answer, they might say it was worth 6 points. If they have no real clue, it might be their 2 point question. You have to use all three values each round, so each round is worth 12 points. After the three rounds, there is a half time question, in which you have to provide four answers to a question with each answer worth three points. For example, the question might be “Name four of the five Marx Brothers?” They would answer Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and then choose between Zeppo and the lesser known Gummo. At the half, their score could be as much as 48 points. Frequently it is not, because the questions can be hard, obscure, or not even in your wheelhouse. For example, if a Music question deals with current Pop music, chances are very good that I will have absolutely no idea, since current pop music sucks big time.

More than 200 teams ready to compete.

For the second half, there are three more rounds of three questions, but this time they are worth 9, 7, and 5 points (or 21 points per round). Questions get a little harder but, if you are sharp, you can make up some ground on the other teams. After Round Six, the scores are updated. The potential at this point is 111 points. Then comes the Final Question. This one can be worth up to 20 points, but there is a kicker. If it is not absolutely correct, the team will lose whatever points they bet. A perfect game has a value of 131 points. Pretty simple.

Sandi, my longsuffering wife, decided that free food and drinks sounded good to her and we began to be regulars. Our team name was “Sandi, Queen of the Universe and Her Pet Frog”. We were OK as a team since our team was me and a self appointed cheerleader. Then, we found out about the tournaments. There was a city championship, held twice a year. And you could have 5 people on your team. I put the call out and soon I had a team with my nephew Wes Hartman, his co-worker Doug Dlin, my horror writer/musician friend Sanford Allen, and Wes’ friend Shawn Lauderdale. We all had some specialized knowledge and we became a pretty good team.  We called ourselves the Boxcar Frogs, an amalgam of my team name with Sandi and Sanford’s band, Boxcar Satan.

We went to the second City Championship held. Going into the Final question we were in Fourth or Fifth place (I forget – it’s been a while). We got the final right and leapfrogged into Second Place and won some money and gift cards. The next time, we won the City Championship and then won it again. We were insufferable.

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Armadillocon wrap-up: Where’d all these durned San Antonians come from?

$5 if you can spot the San Antonian at the Montreal in '17 room party.

Writing blog entries about recent cons is tough. Mainly, I worry I’ll forget to mention the names of the fascinating people I drank with, who said smart stuff on panels or whose readings really floored me.

So in the interest of not driving myself crazy trying to remember every person I owe a mention from last weekend’s Armadillocon, let me just say this: It was good to see all of you. You’re a great bunch — talented, smart, entertaining and, for the most part, friendly and inviting.

Instead of the usual laundry list, I’d rather give a collective shout-out to all the San Antonians who attended. If I’m not mistaken, this year’s show boasted the biggest Alamo City contingent I’ve yet seen at the con. And that’s invigorating for me, because our city — while rich in character and history — often lives in the creative shadow of hipper, more-affluent places like Austin and Dallas.

My fellow blogger Scott A. Cupp was there, as usual, slinging books at Willie Siros’ table, but it was a delight to see Max Booth III and Lori Michelle of Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing and Dark Moon Digest also haunting the dealer’s room. It was hard to miss John Picacio’s amazing display of Game of Thrones prints, but how cool was it that fellow illustrator Sherlock also had an hour-long program on how to draw dragons? And was anybody else impressed with New Braunfels’ Jayme Lynn Blaschke moderating the panel on spirituality in sf/fantasy/horror, maintaining a civil tone as atheists and people of faith hashed out some prickly questions?

Cool stuff, all.

During the con, I got to spend quality bar time with K.B. Rylander, fresh off her win of the Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Award (read her winning “We Fly” here), and with fan/writer/raconteur Clayton Hackett. I saw the familiar faces of San Antonio Writers Guild stalwarts James and Doris Frazar and Stewart Smith during my reading, and I caught up with power couple Scott and Sara Cooper during the autograph session. I spent a little time (too little, sadly) talking Chupacabra poetry with South Texans Dr. Malia A. Perez and Juan Manuel Perez. And, as things wound down Saturday, I ran into Eugene Fischer, a sometimes-San Antonian who helped develop the sf track at the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

And then there were the new Alamo City faces — or new to me, anyway. I broke bread (literally, we were served an entire loaf at Black’s BBQ) with Justin Landon, a Hugo-nominated editor, podcaster and blogger for Tor.com, and I panelized with YA author Peni Griffin. A pleasure to meet you both. I hope we cross paths again soon.

Viva Armadillocon! Viva San Antonio!

San Antonio’s reading, but not enough

San Antonio's main library: Use it or lose it.

San Antonio's main library: Use it or lose it.

As most, sf/fantasy/horror fans know, San Antonio has always been a good market for movies, TV and other mass media. Books? Eh, not so much.

But a new study hints that may be changing — a little bit at a time.

San Antonio ranks 61st among the 75 largest U.S. cities in overall literacy, according to the newly released 2009 AMERICA’S MOST LITERATE CITIES study. The annual review, by Central Connecticut State University, ranks metro areas by factors including number of bookstores, education levels, Internet resources, newspaper circulations, library support and number of publishers.

San Antonio’s ranking near the bottom of the list doesn’t exactly give us bragging rights, I know. But stay with me.

Our city advanced from 64th last year, according to the study. That means we pulled ahead of cities including Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif., and Henderson, Nev.

At the same time, many big metros including Dallas, L.A. and even techie San Jose, Calif., took considerable steps backward from last year. Let’s face it, 2009’s dismal economy and governmental budget cuts didn’t exactly do any favors to booksellers, libraries, schools or publishers.

And before we beat outselves up about how we compared to the rest of the state (a longstanding Alamo City tradition), consider this: Texas, as a whole, fared poorly on the study. San Antonio is neck-and-neck with Houston (ranked 60th) and ahead of three other Texas cities. Apparently, Austin — with its huge university, tech industry and seat of state government — was the only Texas metro area to even break the top 20. It was 16th.

So, what should we take away from this study?

I think it shows that, despite prevailing trends, our city is taking steps in the right direction. Finally.

San Antonio’s education levels and number of booksellers (still mostly chain stores, but that’s a whole other story) improved year-to-year, and our Internet resources — basically, online book orders and use of newspaper websites — ranked a formidable 20th in the nation.

At the same time, the study demonstrates that to become a truly book-embracing city like Seattle; Washington, D.C.; or Minneapolis — the survey’s three top-ranked metro areas — we’ve got considerable work ahead.

So, Alamo City readers, let’s keep the momentum going. Keep buying books, magazines and newspapers and supporting your local booksellers. And demand that our elected officials not pull the rug out from under our libraries and places of learning.

It would be great for our city to be a place where the latest MICHAEL MOORCOCK, JOE R. LANSDALE or DAVID LISS book is greeted with an enthusiasm that matches the opening weekend of AVATAR or the new season of LOST


The McNay Art Museum gets Gorey

edward20gorey2How fricken cool is this?

A 175-piece exhibit of macabre illustrator Edward Gorey’s work opens today at the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio. Guess I know what I’ll be doing this weekend: donning my Victorian finery and taking in some Gorey art.

For details I refer you to my other blog, Missions Unknown. Don’t miss this one, folks. It’s almost too cool to believe.