Posts Tagged ‘Science Fiction’

Thoughts on the 2020 Nebula Conference Online

Some time back in late February, I messaged Terra LeMay and asked “have we started talking about canceling the Nebulas yet?” I’d been watching this pandemic unfold and I could see the writing on the wall. SFWA had not yet started that conversation, but by early March, we began talking about what it would take to convert the experience of the Nebula Conference to an online one. I had an initial phone call with Colin Coyle to discuss technical feasibility and together we tentatively decided that it would be possible. We gave the word to the rest of the SFWA team and not long after that, we got started building things.

My responsibility on the project was for the attendee-facing website. I needed to build a members-only platform that would allow us to put content behind an attendee paywall, and integrate with our chosen video and chat platforms (Boxcast and Chatroll). It needed to integrate with our existing platforms as much as possible as well, and we had about two months to build it and launch, to keep the original conference schedule.

I quickly built a website on top of WordPress utilizing the Astra Pro theme, with MemberPress doing the heavy lifting of selling memberships. We integrated with our membership management tool Wild Apricot for sign ins, as well as selling memberships directly to non-members as well. I also wrote quite a bit of custom code and blocks to bring everything together cohesively. All told, it took me about 100 hours of work to bring the site elements together into a functional system and make changes on the fly during the conference itself. There were a lot of sleepless nights on a very tight timeline to get it done, and there will doubtless be many improvements to make going forward, as I expect the website will be a component of what SFWA does for the conference moving forward.

All that was accomplished under a tight timeframe and I stumbled a bit out of the gate, but we got things done in the end, thanks to the patience of Terra, Kate Baker, and especially Mary Robinette Kowal, among many others. That the site looks as good as it does is a credit to Lauren Raye Snow. She was brought on board to design the entire conference and new logos for the org. her assets and direction was used on the website as well. I’m so thankful for her involvement on this one. I’d be happy to code for her design work any time.

I’ve been involved in the Nebula Conference process a bit in the past in very limited ways, but this online shift has given me a much better perspective on what goes into the sausage making. I learned so many things about the hard work that goes into making these experiences run smoothly, but there was one big takeaway for me. What I didn’t realize was just how large the army of volunteers it takes to run a conference. If you’re considering trying to reproduce what we did on your own for another conference or convention, you will want to have a look at the credits of the Nebula Award presentation–that’s a good glimpse at the more than a hundred people it took to pull things off like the team did.

Thank you so much to all of you who helped out in tech support, moderation, and more. I didn’t interact directly with many of you, but there was no way we could have pulled this off without that army backing us up. It wouldn’t have mattered how good of a job I did building the website running under things if it hadn’t been for your efforts.

My part of the process was a small one, but I’m proud of it, and witnessing the event go off without much of a hitch was one of the more satisfying moments of my career so far.

PS: you can see the work we did here for yourself. You can buy a discounted membership and watch recordings of all the panels at what I think is a pretty great price!


My Dad’s Books

We recently bought some nearly floor to ceiling IKEA bookshelves which has almost doubled our bookshelf space. This has allowed me to finally process my Dad’s books out of storage and figure out which I will keep and which I’ll try to sell or donate. For those who don’t know, my Dad died of lung cancer at the age of 46 a little more than a decade ago. I inherited my love of science fiction from him.

Lots of memories in these books. We don’t have a childhood home to go back to these days, but looking at these books, I can remember exactly where they used to be on shelves in the two different places we lived before I went to college. I can remember which ones he recommended (Saberhagen, McCaffrey) and which ones he said I shouldn’t bother with. (So many Gor books, and Stranger in a Strange Land, which he thought I wouldn’t understand until I was older. He was right.).

Dad was a bit of a pack rat and never got rid of books. Many of his books (but not as many as I remembered, oddly) were scrounged and missing covers, so I think someone had passed him remaindered books cheap. We bought a lot of stuff at garage sales. In the 90s, he became a SF Book Club subscriber, and there are tons of Anne McCaffrey hard covers; a love for her work was something we had in common. There’s also a surprising amount of Andre Norton and Ursula K. LeGuin (one for every Perry Rhodan and E.E. Smith paperback). A surprising variety of stuff across all subgenres really, even D&D and Shadowrun tie-ins. I think I got him hooked on the Shadowrun stuff when I was in high school.

It’s weird; I can’t really say that my Dad had taste you could pin down. He was pretty damned omnivorous when it came to science fiction and fantasy. In the aughts, towards the end, he didn’t read SF/F anymore; he’d decided he was done with that stuff and had moved on to thrillers and mystery. I was sad that for the first time in my life post-college, I had time to read, but we could no longer recommend each other books because of his shifting tastes.  He read everything I wrote, though, and often provided me pretty good feedback on those early stories.  He lived to see my first couple of professional sales, although by that point, I don’t think he read them, so far gone he was.

Really, I think the only books I heard my Dad even slightly disparage were the Gor books, and even then, he thought they were pretty hilarious, just outside my age range at the time. He never outright forbid anything on his shelf from me, except maybe the book he was reading at the time. There were a few times where I tried to steal the latest book club books before he got to them, but never pulled it off.  I wish to this day I had his speed; I don’t know how he did it, but the man managed to read 5-6 books a week. He was also an avid library user for most of my childhood. There was no way we could afford to keep up with his habit, really.

At the bottom of one box, I found a near complete run of 1982 Asimov’s. I think those hit me the hardest. God damn, but I really wish he had lived to see me publish a story in there a few years back. I knew he was proud of me. In fact, the last words he ever said to me were to those effect. But sometimes you kind of feel like you haven’t earned that pride quite yet. Still working on living up to that, every single day.