Two-Hour Transport: A journey into Seattle’s sci-fi and fantasy community

Two-Hour Transport

Podcaster Anaea Lay of Strange Horizons reads her work at Two-Hour Transport in Seattle.

Seattle’s reputation as a literary town includes an enormous presence in the science fiction and fantasy universe. The great Octavia Butler, author of the Parable of the Sower, penned her works in the shadow of the Space Needle, the city’s iconic landmark. Other authors include Don McQuinn, Cat Rambo, and Shawn Speakman. Lesser known and budding writers are nurtured by a vibrant writing community, and recently a new series of events is encouraging fresh voices to speak up.

Theresa Barker, Nicole Bade, and other writers are producing “Two-Hour Transport,” a monthly series featuring readings by established sci-fi, fantasy, and horror authors. These invited readers share published work or test out new work on an audience at Cafe Racer, a funky, arts-oriented watering hole in Seattle a few blocks from the University of Washington. The most recent THT I attended was on March 22, and it featured horror writer Sherry Decker, reading from her upcoming novel A Summer With the Dead, and Anaea Lay, the fiction podcast editor for Strange Horizons magazine.

In a new group called “Brag-a-Thon,” participants win a sticker when rejected by an agent or publisher.

The quirkiest segment of the THT program is the open mic, when up to ten writers ranging from pure novices to experienced pros take five minutes to share something and build up their presentation chops. Almost anything goes, from poetry in the style of Lewis Carroll to excerpts of full-length science fiction novels in progress. I’ve had great fun presenting my own work a few times, and the audience is always friendly and appreciative, no matter the skill level. It helps that everyone sips a beer or a glass of wine to support a neighborhood business.

Two-Hour Transport is part of a larger ad hoc collection of meetups under the banner of the North Seattle SciFi and Fantasy Writers, which started out several years ago as reading groups meeting in local cafes. The meetups include a regular Sunday critique group at Wayward Cafe in Seattle’s Roosevelt neighborhood, and a new group, a monthly “Brag-a-Thon,” in which participants win a sticker for having a story rejected by an agent or a publisher. It’s all intended to build solidarity in a traditional publishing business growing less and less welcoming of writers, ironically, particularly new writers, if they don’t fit into a pre-existing pigeonhole.

I’ve enjoyed every moment of my participation in these groups. It puts the lie to the image of the lonely scribbler at his or her word processor pounding out the next great American sci-fi novel. Though a writer can isolate himself, writing is a social act that depends on support from friends, feedback from colleagues, and if you’re very lucky, help from a publisher. Here’s to a long run for Two-Hour Transport and her sister activities.

The next Two-Hour Transport is Wednesday, April 26, at at Cafe Racer, 5828 Roosevelt Way NE, Seattle. To participate in the open mic, place your name in the hat near the stage.

Have you attended a Two-Hour Transport reading? What did you think?

The new emerging hierarchy of publishing legitimacy

Unexpected still

A still from Kris Swanberg’s film Unexpected. Has she reached the top of a legitimacy pyramid?

A new hierarchy of legitimacy is emerging among independent writers and authors. It’s a direct consequence of the self-publishing revolution, and the growing realization that the most they can expect is satisfaction with seeing their dream in print without riches or fame. A similar hierarchy has already emerged among filmmakers, and I’d bet musicians as well. The facts crystallized for me in an interview of independent filmmaker Kris Swanberg, who premiered her film Unexpected at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.

I made the movie to be seen in a theater. I would love for that to happen. It’s important to me. And I think it legitimizes the film, and I also think that it — it finds a new — a theater-going audience that doesn’t necessarily buy things on [video-on-demand].

In other words, the hierarchy for Swanberg is theaters in general, perhaps art houses in particular, followed by video-on-demand, e.g, Netflix or Amazon Prime, and then direct to DVD, which still exists. If given a choice between a traditional distribution deal and self-distribution via video-on-demand, Swanberg would pick the former, because it conveys the status and artistic validation that VOD cannot.

I’m hearing more and more writers–and I think I’m in this camp–that view traditional or legacy publishing, especially by the Big Five, as the top of a pyramid of legitimacy. This attitude is in part a function of how difficult it is to get a publishing contract. Agents and editors are pickier than ever as a 300-year-old business model is squeezed harder and the process of finding high-quality books that sell grows more difficult. In contrast, the ease of publishing a book on Amazon or Smashwords carries no long-lasting sense of accomplishment, that is, the feeling that you have arrived somewhere after a painful rite of passage. In traditional publishing, you find a world inhabited by Hemingway or Austen. In independent publishing, you enter a world populated by a million shmoes who’ve strung 90,000 words together into a Word document.

The truth is not quite so black and white. Many indie authors–among them Mark Twain and Edgar Allan Poe–have achieved artistic immortality, and failed authors published by the trads are legion. Neither am I making a moral or value judgment on either legacy or independent (self) publishing. Writers write for a variety of reasons, and for many, the main reason is public acceptance and recognition of their artistic vision. Traditional publishing offers this, while self-publishing does not, by and large.

In economic terms, the scarcity of traditional publishers and the limited distribution network (bookstores) increases of the social value of what they offer, certainly to writers and possibly to readers. Rational authors would choose self-publishing first because of the far higher royalty rates. Instead, they mail boxes of paper manuscripts to agents and editors on the 1% chance of avoiding the slush pile. As the traditional publishing industry shrinks (the Big Five was the Big Six not long ago), their value as artistic gatekeepers rises. Amazon, Smashwords, and a dozen other platforms are to Simon and Schuster or Penguin Random House as Wal-Mart is to Nieman-Marcus. In the best of all possible worlds, where would you rather your product be sold?

Why arts events are like torture

trombone plus lawnmower

Yes, this person is playing a trombone accompanied by a lawnmower. Photo courtesy Society of Composers.

I attended an arts event the other day that reminded me why I don’t go to arts events. The event was one of a series of readings sponsored by a Seattle-area literary non-profit which I won’t name, but I respect it for its work with aspiring writers and young people. The event’s theme of climate change caught my eye, because global warming is a ripe, almost unexploited area for fiction. I went with notebook in hand hoping to jot down some thoughts for an article that could make me a few dollars.

No soap. The event featured three writers and a musician. The first writer, a young lawyer who had won the non-profit’s literary prize, read his story, which was a kind of satire on the environmental correctness of Seattle. I was happy that someone was willing to take on the city’s culture of “Let’s do something for the environment, no matter how stupid it is.” But he said nothing substantive or satirical about climate change. Continue reading

New Metropologie Curated Tours

Metropologie

Metropologie is a new boutique tour company in Seattle.

Metropologie is a new tour company in Seattle that presents curated, personalized walking tours focused on local history, arts, music, and culture. I’m one of about two dozen guides, and my tour takes place on Seattle’s central waterfront. We start at the foot of Yesler Way, the second birthplace of Seattle (after Alki) and tell the story of Seattle’s origins with the Duwamish people to the upcoming demolition of the Alaskan Way viaduct. The tour takes about 90 minutes and ends near the Seattle Aquarium.

The company was started by Cresdan Maite, a refugee from the non-profit world who believes that a discriminating visitor or new resident wants a one-on-one (or close to) experience with a long-time local person who loves his/her city and can talk about its history and culture. Seattle’s central waterfront has been a favorite place of mine since childhood; one of my first jobs was in a curio jewelry shop on Pier 55. My tours happen on Saturday afternoons. It’s great way to spend part of your time in the Emerald City.

To sign up for my tour, check out the Metropologie calendar and click the “Maritime” link on Saturdays. Tickets are $40 each. Questions welcome!