Tag: Meghan McCarron (page 1 of 2)

The Coode Street Podcast with Jo Walton and Me


At WorldCon in Kansas City I got the chance to join Jo Walton on the Coode Street podcast, hosted by Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe. We talked about writers that characterize different eras of science fiction, how science fiction differs rhetorically from fantasy (more detail on that here), and whether there’s a difference between the kinds of literary experimentation in the past and what is pursued today. As tends to happen, I fell a little bit into just listening to Jo be enviably clever, but I did get a chance to talk about the Iowa Writers’ Workshop’s modern support for genre writing, and contemporary writers who inspire me (going on for a bit about  Carmen Maria Machado and Meghan McCarron and Carola Dibbell). You can listen to the episode on the Coode Street site, on your podcast player of choice through iTunes, or via the embedded player below.

WisCon 40 and the Tiptree Award

Me with my parents on the night of the the Tiptree Award ceremony. Photo by John Scalzi.

This post is long overdue, having been constantly delayed by other life stuff. But WisCon 40 was special, and I want to record some of it here. WisCon is always special to me; it was my first con and the one I still attend every year. Attending as a Tiptree winner though is a unique experience, and one I’m very grateful to have had.


A warm reception at dinner

I made it to Madison on Thursday just in time to race to the hotel and change into a suit for the Tiptree Motherboard dinner at Cento. I was very nearly on time but still the last to arrive, which produced the weekend’s first moment of atypical celebration when the already assembled group applauded my arrival. I took a stunned and bashful moment, then asked them to do it again so I could snap a picture. I was sure to take time during dinner to move down that long table and introduce myself to everyone, and met many people I was to keep interacting with for the rest of the weekend.

Me and Pat Murphy, founder of the Tiptree Awards

With Pat Murphy, who founded the award in her GoH speech in 1991

The next day was the official start of the convention, with my first programming of the weekend: a reading with Meghan McCarron, Jen Volant, and Anthony Ha. My co-readers shared some great stories, and everyone laughed at the funny parts of mine and seemed interested in the philosophy bits, so I think it went fairly well. After that was dinner, and then the Opening Ceremonies. As it was the occasion of WisCon’s 40th anniversary, many people spoke of what the con and its community meant to them. Then the three guests of honor, Justine Larbalestier, Sofia Samatar, and returning GoH Nalo Hopkinson were introduced.  To close things out I was presented with the Tiptree tiara by founding mother Pat Murphy, and crowned by Eleanor Arnason, the winner of the very first Tiptree Award.

Doing my best Space Babe impression

Doing my best Space Babe impression. This was, obviously, before I got the tiara. Photo by Jeanne Gomoll.

Saturday was my day without any programming, allowing me to simply float about and marvel over how absurdly kind everyone was to me. Cath Schaff-Stump invited me to do an interview for the Unreliable Narrators podcast, which you can listen to here for a sense of how overwhelmed by it all I was. There was a cake for me to cut featuring a mashup of the cover of my Asimov’s issue and the cover of Lizard Radio, the other Tiptree winner. There were many long and pleasant talks with friends. And, for the first time, there were my parents, who showed up that evening and took me out to a steak dinner at Rare, a fancy restaurant around the corner from the hotel. After that was the Tiptree auction, where my mother won me a first edition copy of Patternmaster. The night finished, of course, with the Floomp, perennially a WisCon high point.

Sunday was the big day. I spent the morning in my room working on my acceptance speech, then went downstairs for my first ever WisCon panels: Exposition in SF/F, and Writing Near Future SF. While I was empaneled, my aunt and uncle drove up from Chicago to join my parents and myself at the dessert banquet and subsequent ceremonies. First came the three excellent Guest of Honor speeches, including Nalo Hopkinson’s establishment of the Lemonade Award for kindness in science fiction communities. Then, when those were over, the Tiptree Award presentation. This included receiving the award, a check, a box of chocolates, a commissioned artwork based on “The New Mother,” and a serenade from audience. Some pictures:

Then it was time for me to give the speech I’d spent the morning writing. Just as with the the picture of my loss of composure in the gallery above, John Scalzi managed to snap an action shot:

This is an overwhelming honor. I owe so much gratitude to so many people for the success of “The New Mother”—readers, jurors, friends old and new— that, even if I restricted myself to just people who are in this room, I would outlast any reasonable person’s patience before I could individually thank them all with the thoroughness their generosity merits. Doing so may well be less the work of an acceptance speech and more a permanent life project. Special recognition is due, though, to my parents, Jean Stein and Michael Fischer, who traveled from Texas to be here tonight, who raised me in a house full of science fiction novels and have been the most constant supporters of my own writing. Beyond that, I’d like to briefly explain how instrumental the entire WisCon community was in enabling me to write “The New Mother.” When I attended Clarion in 2008, I had already been sitting on the idea for this story for two years, certain that the concept was strong, and equally certain I didn’t have the knowledge or skill to do it justice. During the last week of the workshop I mentioned to Nalo Hopkinson that my recent, brief visit to San Diego Comicon had given me a panic attack, and that I was unsure the whole con thing was really for me. She told me that not all cons are like that, and specifically made me promise to give WisCon a try before I made up my mind. I attended for the first time in 2009, and when I got home I sent Nalo flowers in Canada to thank her for pushing me in this direction. I’ve been coming every year since, listening to all of you and your important, challenging ideas. I could not have written “The New Mother” without access to the vibrant polyphony I encounter annually in this building. So I thank you, WisCon, both for celebrating me this weekend and for educating me over the last seven years. I hope to continue learning from you for a long time to come.

After that came hugs and laughs and, as I recall, a very great deal of tequila. My hangover the next morning was pristine, the sort of hangover where anyplace you put your body feels like littering. Fortunately it began to abate by the time I had to make my way to the airport shuttle, because I ended up sharing that ride with Pat Murphy. We were on the same outbound flight, and so I got to cap my Tiptree experience by debriefing with the woman who was there from the very start. A more perfect close I couldn’t imagine.


14_venturacomp_bkI have a punctuated history with bicycles. The earliest one I can recall owning is lodged in the amorphous mists of my first decade, a period of my life from which I can access only disordered fragments. I think I remember it was mostly black, with padding Velcroed around the bars, and some kind of branding that put me in mind of the SR-71 spy plane–its most salient feature to my young mind. If I ever rode it, I doubt it was more than around the driveway or up the block.

The first bicycle I ever really used was a blue Diamondback, eighteen speed. It was my main mode of personal transportation from around ages thirteen to sixteen. I used to ride through the neighborhood, down drainage ditches and around “private property” signs, scouting hidden paths to the corner store where I could binge on Tic-Tacs and Bubblicious. I would also ride across the street to the karate school, where I met my friend David Fernandez. Soon we were on bikes together, heading down to Blockbuster every weekend for a video game or three that we would try to beat by Monday. Those years were Peak Bike in my life, a high water mark I’ve never hit again.

That tide rolled all the way back and dried up when I turned sixteen and started driving. I got a car, and the blue Diamondback got a spot in the garage and gathered dust. Some years later, during a brief window when he was the right size to ride it, I gave it to my younger brother. He either destroyed it, outgrew it, or (likely) both.

My next notable bicycle experience was in 2009, when I borrowed my father’s bike (the one he bought at the same time he got me that blue Diamondback so we could ride together) as a way to strengthen my emaciated legs after spending ten months bedridden with Crohn’s disease. I bought a saddle soft enough for my still-tender posterior and resumed my childhood practice of riding up to the corner store and back. This time it was an eight or ten block roundtrip that took me most of the afternoon.

Eventually my lower body strength returned to me, and I returned my father’s bike to him, though I kept that nice, soft seat. I moved, worked, moved, and eventually found myself living in Iowa City, a midwestern college town so bike-friendly that I started to feel like I needed an excuse not to have one. It was the summer of 2012, and I had never personally purchased a bicycle before. “But this is easy,” I thought, “I’ll just get online, research what the experts say, and pick the perfect one.” After about fifteen minutes staring into the infinitely deep well that is online cycling culture, I thought, “This is easy. I’ll just go to a store and have a salesman sell me a bike.”

The 2012 Trek 7.2 FX

The 2012 Trek 7.2 FX

I ended up at World of Bikes, where after some discussion of my needs and experience level, a helpful employee sold me a Trek 7.2 FX hybrid. This is the entry-level bike that reviewing site The Sweethome would later name the best hybrid bike for two years running. It certainly did everything I asked it to in Iowa City, where the streets are mostly flat and mostly empty. I did struggle on what hills there were, but I’m someone who’d digested all the muscles in his legs not so long ago. That was surely to be expected, I figured.

Meghan McCarron on her Surly Cross Check. To the right, my Trek 7.2 FX. Not pictured: me on the ground, on my back, trying not to die.

Meghan McCarron, bicycle warrior, on her Surly Cross-Check. To the right: my Trek 7.2 FX. Behind: the brutal hill we had just ascended. Not pictured: me on the ground, trying not to die.

In 2014 I moved to Austin, which is very bikeable as cities go, but a nightmarish deathrap of traffic and hills when compared to Iowa City. The bicycle culture here is strong, and I wanted to take part, but every time I got on the saddle I would chicken out after a few blocks. Realizing that I would never make it out of my neighborhood without a push, I enlisted the help of my friend Meghan McCarron, a cycling badass who I knew used to commute between Austin and San Marcos–towns separated by more than thirty miles–during grad school. Knowing that the streets of Austin wouldn’t seem scary after a day with Meghan, I told her, “I want you to take me on a bike ride that will kill me.” And so, the day before my 31st birthday, she took me on a leg-melting trip, disappearing into the distance up hills she could barely feel that I crawled up in lowest gear. Twenty-four miles later, I was no longer afraid to bike around Austin.

At the clinic after my bike accident.

At the clinic after my bike accident.

I started riding my bike a lot. I rode to see friends’ gigs. I rode to restaurants to meet dates. I rode to bars with my laptop to write. But I never got much better at the hills, which remained brutal. This was especially troublesome since I live on one of the steepest hills in the city, a straight shot down to the river. Riding down that hill is breezy, but the way back up is a nearly two mile incline that would frequently find me walking my bike instead of riding it. And this hill is also where my cycle anxiety returned; while heading downhill to a coffee shop with my computer, my front brakes locked and sent my flying over the handlebars to the pavement. I denuded my shoulder, broke my wrist, and banged up my knee. It took about ten weeks to heal up enough to ride again, and even longer to do so with any confidence. To regain my courage, and to have a last athletic hurrah before she moved to Los Angeles, last weekend I went on another long ride with Meghan. This time, while we were out and about, she let me try riding her Surly Cross-Check, a steel, drop-handled “super commuter.” I’d never ridden a bicycle with drop handlebars before, and was impressed with how much more power I had in my pedal. Having outsourced responsibility for choosing a bicycle to World of Bikes three years earlier, this was my first time really thinking about how the details of the vehicle were affecting my experience. Maybe I wasn’t destined to always struggle up hills. Maybe a different machine would make my life easier.

I decided it was time to start actually learning about bicycles. I began at Austin’s largest bike shop, where I had staff take me through the showroom, explaining types, features, options. I figured out that what I wanted was probably a road bike, a light-framed bicycle made for riding on smooth pavement. The employee I spoke with there told me that, for the features I wanted, I was probably looking at a bike in the $1200-$1700 range. At that price point, I wouldn’t be changing rides any time soon. My Trek worked well enough that it wasn’t worth a thousand bucks to do better. But just for a second opinion, though, and because I happened to be riding by it, I decided to stop in at one of Austin’s newest cycle shops, Bikehaus. I met the owner, Eric Hess, who let me know that (a) he thought the folks at the previous store had overstated how much I would need to pay, and (b) he was offering some impressive deals.

The 2014 Jamis Ventura Comp. (Also pictured at the top.)

The 2014 Jamis Ventura Comp. (Also pictured at the top.)

Bikehaus isn’t only recently opened, but in a newly-built building. Apparently there were building delays, and while Eric had expected to be doing business in 2014, the doors were barely open before 2015 came around. That left him with a surplus of 2014 models he needed to move before the 2016s came out. He let me test ride a couple of bikes he thought might suit my needs, and told me he’d sell me my favorite one, a 2014 Jamis Ventura Comp, for $550. That’s 42% below the MSRP, and much better than the used prices I was able to find online. (Also a good deal based on the information here.) Even if it wasn’t for me, I figured I could turn around and sell it for little or no loss. With his discount, Eric turned me from a guy planning to get a new bicycle someday into one struggling not to impulse buy. I sat on the decision for two days, then got the bike. Eric spent an hour with me explaining things and adjusting it to my body.

That was four days ago. I love this bicycle. I’ve been riding it every day, and getting home afterward excited to ride again. The very first night I was cresting hills I would have had to walk before. It has eighteen speeds, an aluminum frame, and a carbon fork. It weighs seven very noticeable pounds less than my Trek (more when you consider I rode the Trek with a rack and basket). The shifters are silky-smooth, and it has quick-release breaks that makes removing the wheels much easier for those times I need to put it in the trunk of my car. Between the experience and the price, I’m head-over-heels for this thing. (Thankfully, only figuratively so far.) If the enjoyment lasts, my life might just reach a new Peak Bike.

My Friends Write Things


  • I Can See Right Through You” – Stop whatever you’re doing now, because Kelly Link has a new story out in McSweeeny’s. This one’s about celebrity, old relationships, and ghost stories. But you didn’t need to know that. All you needed to know is that there’s a new story to read by Kelly Link. That’s all anyone ever needs to know.


  • The Abyss” – More from Rebekah Frumkin, this time writing for Granta about her experience working as seasonal labor in a haunted house. Also, have you been keeping up with her column in McSweeney’s? You should be! The latest installment, “I Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” is about her stint in a psychiatric ward in 2013.
  • Double Dare: Point Horror” – A new column from Meghan McCarron and Alice Sola Kim, in which they assign each other reading to review. In this first column they revisit a couple volumes of a classic tweenage horror series.
  • Checklist” – Genevieve Valentine with a caustic and heartbreaking and infuriating piece about the pressures brought to bear on rape victims.
  • Going Aboard” – Ben Shattuck took a trip on a recreation of a ship much like the one in Moby-Dick, and wrote about how time has altered the experience.
  • Tasers, Drones, and Cold Chicken: Inside the Multibillion-Dollar Business of Keeping Me Out of America” – Jose Orduna visits a border security expo and writes about it with powerful, deserved rage.


Recent Writing by Friends of Mine



  • A Dismal Paradise” – Ashley Davidson with a story in Five Chapters that really stayed with me. It’s a gorgeous, subtle look at the complicated boundaries of humanity and infirmity. This is a favorite subject of mine, and Ashley has explored it with memorable grace.
  • We Are The Cloud” – Sam Miller in Lightspeed Magazine, with a science fiction story about the exploitation of orphan children that is, by turns, tender and brutal.
  • The Glass Bottle Trick” – Nalo Hopkinson in Fantasy Magazine with a new take on the Bluebeard story. I overdosed on retold folklore a few years ago and haven’t usually been able to enjoy it since, but perhaps I’ve gotten over it, because I liked this. Bit of a linked variables problem, though; I almost always like Nalo’s work.

Thom Andersen on Light Rail in Los Angeles – A Free Market Parable

I recently went with Meghan McCarron to a screening of the long, excellent video essay Los Angeles Plays Itself, and since then have been reading some interviews with the director, Thom Andersen. In an interview with StopSmiling in 2007 he commented on changes in public transportation in Los Angeles.

Since I made the movie, the bus system and public transportation system in general has gotten better. But it’s on the verge of getting worse because, over the next couple years, they want to raise fares more than 100 percent. They’re losing money. It’s attributable to the investment in subways and so-called “light-rail” projects. The ridership on those systems has never been very high because the idea of those systems is not to serve the public that actually uses public transportation, but to attract another public to using public transportation.

I don’t know how these issues have developed in the seven years since he gave that interview, but his observation–that new public transport proposals were designed to appeal to wealthier people, and therefore not only didn’t address the needs of those who actually used pubic transport but exacerbated them–strikes me as profound. I suspect this is a common phenomenon, and one that I will strive to look for now that it’s been pointed out for me. It reminds me of something I once heard articulated by a Berkeley economist on the radio: the free market works on price signaling, so people too impoverished to contribute a meaningful signal are invisible, treated by the market as if they don’t exist. Thus, free market solutions are simply inapplicable to problems of poverty. Andersen’s observation is an example of how, even if the needs of impoverished communities is invisible to the free market, the rhetoric of those needs, or more specifically their value as a tool to justify profitable endeavor, is not.

Recent Writing by Friends of Mine



  • “How to Get Back to the Forest” by Sofia Samatar – A visceral SF short story about the industrialization of education and those people who sometimes flash through your life with a bravery you’ll never match.
  • “History” by Thomas Gebremedhin – Thomas was one of a very few of my Iowa contemporaries with whom I never managed to share a workshop. So it was a delight to finally encounter his fiction in this lonely, lyrical little story.
  • “Stethoscope” by Ben Mauk – Ben I had workshop with many times, and this is one of the most memorable stories I’ve read in draft form. Seriously, it has stuck in my head for three years now. This is a long, free excerpt, with the full text available to subscribers to The Sun.

Tweek in Review

This week’s favstarred tweets.

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WisCon 38

MoxieNot going to do a full con report this year, but I attended WisCon38 and had a generally lovely time. I got to see Karen, Pär, and Jeremiah, all of whom I’m going to miss terribly when I move away from Iowa City and can no longer easily visit. I roomed with Keffy Kehrli and Sunny Moraine, and also spent time with Ted Chiang, Marica Glover, Jen Volant, Meghan McCarron, David Schwartz, David Moles, Ben Rosenbaum, Will Alexander, Genevieve Valentine, Valya Lupescu, Nancy Hightower, Alice Kim, Liz Gorinsky, Richard Butner, Barb Gilly, Marco Palmieri, Greg Bechtel, and a bunch of my friends from the Clarion 2012 class.

The most notable thing for me this year was that I had my first reading at the con. Gwenda Bond and Christopher Rowe had to cancel their attendance at the last minute, and I got to take one of their places in at the Death-defying Feats of Moxie reading. I read the first three sections of my novella “The New Mother,” and got an enthusiastic reception. Hopefully by next WisCon it will be published.

Two Tweeks in Review

I was at WisCon this weekend, so didn’t do my normal roundup of favorited tweets last friday. Here’s two weeks worth instead.

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