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?

‘Bet’ now at Seattle Public Library; Poll: Change Joe’s name

Bet: Stowaway Daughter cover

Bet: Stowaway Daughter, my self-published novel, is now available for checkout from the Seattle Public Library.

Getting into the local library is one of the biggest challenges for the self-published author. I’ve leapt that hurdle with my one self-published novel, Bet: Stowaway Daughter, which I released as an e-book in 2009. It’s now available for checkout at the Seattle Public Library and the King County Public Library. Download it to your Kindle! (Oh, yeah, you can buy it on Amazon.) To find it at the libary, simply search the catalog on my last name, Follansbee. Here’s the blurb:

During the Great Depression, Lisbet “Bet” Lindstrom is the 13-year-old daughter of a sea captain convicted of theft and sent to prison. Bet is convinced her father is innocent, but she has no way to prove it. Desperate to free her father, she visits his old fishing boat, and spots a horribly scarred sailor who might know the truth about the crime. Ignoring the warnings of her friends, she secretly jumps aboard the ship, and sails to Alaska. She braves huge storms, performs daring rescues and faces the man who threatens everything she loves.

I’m still hoping an agent will pick up Carbon Run, my first science fiction novel. In case no one bites, the manuscript is ready to be self-published. Lately, I’ve been thinking my author name, “Joe Follansbee,” is a bit weak, and there’s evidence that author names without a gender get more traction for certain subjects or content. (Would you buy a Regency romance novel from someone named “Joe?”) I’m conducting a poll, asking what name you prefer. Help me change my name (or not) by picking one of the options below.


Any other thoughts? Let me know.

Is Seattle the ‘New Space’ Capital of the USA?

Space Needle image

Could Seattle’s Space Needle become the symbol for the ‘New Space’ capital of the US?

When Americans think of a place for outer space on Earth, Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center come immediately to mind. That’s where the United States has launched most of the manned and unmanned space missions of the past half-century. Things are changing, however. While launches will always happen close to the equator because of the physics of rocketry, the intellectual center of gravity may be shifting catty-corner to the other end of the country. Seattle may soon vie for Florida’s “Space Coast” as the principal place where the country explores the possibilities of space.

A group of enthusiasts, engineers, and business leaders argued the point at a recent meeting of the Space Entrepreneurs, a Seattle-area meetup that’s a little more than a year old. The two-dozen or so attendees, some of whom have seen everything since Sputnik, and a few were born born years after the Moon landings, debated the meaning of “old space” and “new space” as they surveyed the history of space exploration and utilization from the speculations of H.G. Wells to the investments of Elon Musk. Though the details are arguable, “old space” refers to the government and defense contractor-dominated space projects from the end of World War II through the present day. Kickstarted by the Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984, the Commercial Space Act of 1998, and later laws, “new space” took form as Congress decided NASA should not carry the entire burden of developing the country’s space capabilities. Continue reading

Why is it so hard to save our maritime heritage?

Kalakala

1935 ferry Kalakala in Tacoma. Photo by Joe Follansbee.

The news I dreaded for years arrived this week. The 1935 Kalakala, the only art-deco ferry ever built, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is headed for the breakers. Its death was slow, painful, and probably inevitable. It’s passing should not be a surprise. I listed it as endangered in 2011 and 2012 on my old Fyddeye website. The ferry is one of a handful of decaying large historic vessels, which include USS Olympia and SS United States, both in Philadelphia. Our national patrimony is rusting away.

For a generation in Seattle, Kalakala’s sleek design and quirky behavior stood for a city of chance-takers and idea-evangelists long before the Space Needle was built in 1963. I got to know her after the sculptor Peter Bevis rescued her from oblivion on tide flats in Kodiak, Alaska in 1998. That was the beginning of her end. I was at the auction when the 276-foot “silver slug” was taken away from Bevis in 2003. The new owner, Steve Rodrigues, had big dreams, but no money and even less political savvy. He blames her final disposal on a “conspiracy” among the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard, the State of Washington, and the cities of Tacoma, Seattle and Kodiak. The facts are simpler: He neglected to pay her bills, and ownership fell to Karl Anderson, a Tacoma businessman. He’s had enough of her; she’ll be shards of metal by the end of this month. Continue reading

Has Game of Thrones reached its sell-by date?

George RR Martin meme

George RR Martin finishes the Game of Thrones series. Yeah, in your wildest fantasy.

Ok, so I’m late to the party, but I just spent the last six or eight weeks (I’ve lost count) reading the 1,123-page paperback edition of George R.R. Martin’s A Dance With Dragons, book five of the A Song of Ice and Fire series, mostly because my obsessive-compulsive tendencies prevented me from abandoning the door-stopper. I wasted about half that time.

You know there’s a problem when the author has to explain himself on the first page of the book. After the dedication, itself a tome (31 names!), in what he titles a “cavil,” an obscure word meaning “trivial objection,” he nearly apologizes for what he’s about to do: give you virtual whiplash by taking you backward then forward in time and into parallel universes. Off you go, don’t get lost! Continue reading

New heritage area is like Cool Whip: A tasty froth

Fireworks over Lake Union

Fireworks over Seattle’s Lake Union, which is part of a new King County maritime heritage area. Image courtesy Northwest Seaport.

Politicians love symbolic actions, especially when they’re sending a message to Congress without any cost at home. That’s the most realistic way to interpret a move by the King County Council (which governs Seattle’s home county) this week to create a county maritime heritage area. The action covers all of the county’s saltwater shore on Puget Sound and the freshwater shoreline on Lake Union and the Lake Washington Ship Canal. All the freshwater shore is within Seattle’s city limits. The county action a good thing, but only as far as it goes.

The new ordinance takes particular pains to head off any cries of “takings” or other property-rights nonsense by Tea Party fanatics or otherwise ignorant property owners. An email by King County Councilmember Larry Phillips, whose entire district is inside liberal Seattle’s city limits, says the ordinance “carries no regulatory, procedural, or property management constraints. It is intended solely to support heritage and tourism potential.” In other words, it does nothing concrete; it’s symbolic only, and even then, it only touches “potential,” a philosophical construct for something that doesn’t exist, but might. Wrap your head around that logic. Continue reading

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

Remembering the last man of a ship’s final crew

Dave Wright photo

Dave Wright, left, and his brother Frank Wright, on Wawona. The photo was probably taken in 1947.

The Pacific Northwest lost a piece of its irreplaceable history last week, and I lost a friend. Dave Wright, the last surviving fisherman who sailed on the schooner Wawona, died on February 11 in Anacortes at the age of 94. Dave was the single most important source for my book, Shipbuilders, Sea Captains and Fishermen: The Story of the Schooner Wawona. The book told the story of the 1897 lumber and fishing schooner Wawona, which was preserved at South Lake Union in Seattle until 2009, when it was broken up. I dedicated my book to Dave, who sailed on Wawona three times.

Dave Wright

Dave Wright

While I was researching the book, I visited him exactly 10 years ago at his home in Anacortes. He was cheerful and energetic, even though he had just lost his wife, Dolly “Ruth” Wright. He visited with me for nearly two hours, regaling me with stories of his time on Wawona. Born in 1919, he wanted to live a life at sea, and his first trip as a young man was on Wawona in 1940. He sailed on her twice more, in 1941, just before the outbreak of World War II, and in 1947, the last time Wawona sailed.

I dug into my old Wawona notes and found an anecdote. Although the year of the incident is unclear, Dave remembered Capt. Thorsten “Tom” Haugen, a Norwegian immigrant whom Dave described as a “a very kind gentleman.” Dave and the other fishermen caught fish from a power dory, a modified Gloucester dory with an outboard engine.

One time, it was so foggy, I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. All I had was a compass and a watch. I couldn’t hear anything. I’d go a little ways and time it against the tide and stop the motor and listen. I heard a loud boom that bounced off the dory. I didn’t know what it was. Well, in the early morning, the fog would lift a bit off the water. I looked around and saw the ship 50 or 60 feet behind me. Someone was firing a gun, and the noise I heard was the sound bouncing off my dory. And Capt. Haugen says to me, “Vat’s da madder? Wouldn’t you rather sleep in your dory all night long?”

When Dave died last week, a chapter in Northwest history closed forever. He was likely the last surviving fisherman who sailed with the last working fleet of sailing vessels flying the U.S. flag. The final trip by one of these vessels took place in 1950, and that boat, C.A. Thayer, is now preserved in San Francisco. I wrote my Wawona book in part to preserve her stories, because I knew the ship itself was in grave danger. My fears were borne out, and I owe Dave a debt of gratitude for sharing his story.

Photos from Seattle Indie Book Fair

I visited the first annual Seattle Indie Book Fair today at the A/NT Gallery on Westlake in Seattle. At least two dozen independent authors and small press proprietors packed the gallery with science fiction, fantasy, non-fiction, and poetry. The gallery is a great space for showcasing some fabulous work by people taking DIY publishing to a new level. I purchased a Christmas comic and a fantasy novel. I can’t wait for next year’s fair!

1st Seattle Indie Book Fair Dec. 20-21

Indie Book Fair logo

The first-ever Seattle Indie Book Fair is scheduled for Dec. 20-21, 2013 at the A/NT Gallery.

More than 30 independent Seattle authors will gather for the first time at a downtown Seattle art gallery in December to discuss and sell copies of their work to the public. The inaugural Seattle Indie Book Fair is scheduled for 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, December 20-21, 2013 at the A/NT Gallery, 2045 Westlake Avenue, Seattle. Several genres will be represented, including science fiction, fantasy, romance, and literary fiction.

Independent authors are writers who have published novels, poetry, and other works outside of the traditional book publishing industry. Instead of submitting manuscripts to publishers, who then produce the work, independent authors contract directly with editors, cover artists, and printers to publish. Many independent authors sell copies to the public in person or online. Bookstores may also carry their works.

At the Indie Book Fair, authors will present readings and sign books. The fair is an opportunity for readers to meet independent authors and learn about their writing and publishing. Author readings are scheduled 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday, December 21, at the A/NT Gallery. More information can be found at www.indiebookfair.com.

Seattle-based Fuzzy Hedgehog Press is welcoming more authors to the fair. Tables are $20 each and may be shared. Ten percent of sales proceeds will support the gallery. Small presses are also invited to the fair. To register, send email to contact@indiebookfair.com. Fuzzy Hedgehog Press is presenting the Seattle Indie Book Fair in collaboration with the A/NT Gallery, a non-profit, all-volunteer business whose mission is to provide an open venue for Seattle’s arts community.