They avalanche toward us, and the reek of them hits me like a wall: yet I keep my feet. I uncoil the rope about my left arm, drop the cold metal hook into my left palm. You up there, you see the tyrannosaurs huge on the screens but you have no idea just how massive they really are. You can’t begin to understand that until they are charging at you, explosions of sand about their feet. Nor can you even imagine how deadly, how lethal they are, if you have never looked closely in their eyes, as I have. Today is my first Patriot Day, but I have practiced mounting many times with Mai’s harsh voice barking out directions, and many times I have looked into the tyrannosaur’s eyes. Darker than dark and deep as time, and alien like a bird’s eyes.
Start scrolling, reading, enjoying. The gallery below has everything:
pirates, mermaids, X-Men, Elder Gods, ninjas, teens,
near-death experiences (i.e., almost getting skewered by Zelda).
It has been a whirlwind season with a lot of con appearances and book signings. Absolutely wonderful cons. Here is a quick gallery of my adventures, misadventures, and near-death experiences at AnomalyCon 2015 and Denver Comic Con 2015:
Honestly, I’m still processing just how amazing AnomalyCon was. I write a lot of alternate history, and these alternate history and steampunk fans … they are my people. What a wonderful time!
Met some old friends and longtime fans, and some new ones, too.
Here I am with Jenna Bird, a longtime fan of my fiction, and — on the right — Roberto Calas, who does many of my covers and who is a remarkable novelist, too. Here he is again, on the left, at a table we shared at the con:
I taught a class for young writers and did a late-night, night-owl reading that must have been good, because everyone stayed an hour afterward to talk about it!
And yes, Cthulhu came to my late-night reading of The Zombie Bible:
I also sold an entire suitcase of books, which I did not expect.
I got to meet Jody Lynn Nye, whom I’ve wanted to meet forever. When I was a kid, I used to stare longingly at the two-page Science Fiction Book Club ads in my mother’s magazines, and I’d take a pen and circle the covers of the books I wanted to read but that we didn’t have money for. One of the books was Jody Lynn Nye and Anne McCaffrey’s The Dragonlovers’ Guide to Pern.
Long before I read Dragonflight, I fell in love with the dragonet on that cover, and the name “Jody Lynn Nye” appearing beneath it was a sort of magic phrase that meant (to me) “adventure, alien places, dragonets, and wonder, wonder, wonder.”
Years later, I read Dragonflight and Dragonsong and Anne McCaffrey’s work had a huge impact on me as a young writer (and as a young human being). You can read what kind of impact in my Anne McCaffery eulogy, “In Memory of Pern.”
Jody very graciously signed my copy of the Dragonlovers’ Guide, and we chatted for quite a while about Pern, Anne and her son, good memories, and questions about what the future has in store for Pern.
I met James Artimus Owen, who is my new inspiration: we traded tales of dragons, growing up, and we taught a class together; he is an amazing person, and I have his book Here There Be Dragons; it might just be the most original and beautiful thing I’ve encountered in quite a while.
I also met Travis Heermann, whom I’ve admired from afar for some time. (Check out his “Ronin” series — historical fantasy set in medieval Japan. Not only is it well-researched, but Travis lived in Japan during his years of research.)
I met the DoubleClicks — OMG. They are my favorite local band, and I was honored to sit on a panel with them! (If you don’t know them, go to Youtube right now — or check them out here on Patreon. They write and perform clever, funny geek lyrics. I love their work.)
Artist Sarah Menzel made the beautiful illustration you see here — it’s an illustration for Ansible 15716, and it was made just for this con, for the AnomalyCon trading cards! I am seriously wowed by it, and with her permission I’ve used it for the cover of my writers’ toolkit Write Characters Your Readers Won’t Forget.
Ansible 15716 is a poignant, wondrous story, and Sarah’s beautiful art is perfect for it.
I met amazing people. I introduced people to my amazing stories. But most of all, I saw people genuinely and deeply enjoying themselves, and standing up for each other if someone was bullied or uncomfortable (that ended fast, that’s for sure; Kronda Seibert, the con founder and organizer, has a strict “No Jerks” policy). And a longtime friend proposed to his girlfriend by the TARDIS — I am so happy for them! I am looking forward to next year!
To see Westword‘s gallery of the AnomalyCon cosplayers, go here.
2. Denver Comic Con
Over 100,000 tickets sold — an amazing year for DCC. My friends Chris Angel, Bruce Macintosh, and Eneasz Brodski did an absolutely superlative job on this con.
I will remember DCC 2015 mostly for the exuberant “Rewriting History with The Walking Dead” activity that I co-conducted with my friend Vince Gonzales (assistant director of AMC’s The Walking Dead, Seasons 2 & 3) — in which we got a packed roomful of fans brainstorming how different cultures across varied centuries and continents would have reacted to the peril of the hungry dead, ranging from Cuba to Australia to the Aztecs…
…and for the wonderful people I met (or met again). Ariel (below) honored me with the name of “friend,” which meant a great deal to me.
I met the TARDIS:
And an evil villain from The Fifth Element, who, just as I predicted, relished my tales of intergalactic disaster:
And the X-Men, whose hair was amazing:
I got to see fans and Patreon members, such as Andrew Resch Gillespie:
And Kari Wolfe:
I met Mr. and Mrs. Ash:
Ariel the Little Mermaid and Captain Jack Sparrow:
And defended myself (with a book as my shield) against the fierce swordplay of Zelda and Skywalker.
The panels at DCC were very good this year. Here I am, apparently having a moment of epiphany on a panel with Paolo Bacigalupi, Dan Wells, Stephen Graham Jones, and Warren Hammond. We were discussing dystopian literature.
Ladybug Girl came to the panel, and I had to take a photo for my daughter, who loves Ladybug Girl. In What Our Eyes Have Witnessed, a small red beetle — a ladybug — plays a crucial part in the story.
Meagan Banning, who did some absolutely gorgeous cosplay — on each day! — came by to see me at Authors Alley. Meagan, a good friend, was one of my wife’s bridesmaids and is an incredible photographer, and one who, unlike many other photographers, is actually quite gracious about having her own picture taken.
A few more. This lady from Mortal Kombat quite kindly allowed me to offer encouragement and advice on writing. Offering advice to a lethally armed (and fanged) Mortal Kombat ninja is always a bit of a risk, but she was gracious.
And — gasp! — I met Inuyasha cosplayers: Miroku and Sango! This meant a lot to me because my wife and I watched the entire series in Japanese while we were dating.
Yes, we are nerds.
Even anime nerds.
Deal with it.
In one of the most remarkable moments at a wonderful con, I was asked to sign a dog:
That is a service dog. And he thought I was tickling him.
I am honored to have been asked to sign a service dog.
By the way — check out my DCC 2014 (last year’s) gallery here.
And a quick shoutout to fellow author Mark Everett Stone and to Nikki Ebright, organizer of Myths & Legends Con, who both helped me out enormously at DCC this year. I sold nearly 150 books and led several intense activities; without their aid, I doubt I would have remained sane. Also to fellow authors Vivian Caethe and Guy Anthony de Marco, whose gracious advice at the last few cons has helped me make the experience much more memorable!
3. Visiting Young Readers
During this season, I’ve also visited a troubled teens’ academy in Atlanta, GA, and hung out with the teens of Grey Havens YA at an event in Niwot, CO — and you can read those two stories here.
Those experiences, especially, moved me to the heart. It is the young who carry the dreams of the future, and the way that future is made starts with powerful storytelling. When you help a young person reimagine and retell their story, you help them make our future.
4. The Real Hero this Season
I am now thoroughly exhausted and exhilarated, and eager for the break before the next con.
The real hero of this con season, though, is my wife Jessica. She has taken care of the children during these cons, and she did so through DCC 2015 with a cast on her right arm. (She broke her wrist recently.) She is my hero, and I very literally couldn’t do all that I do without her.
I brought home a good bottle of red wine at the end of Denver Comic Con, and wished I could have brought her a truck of it. She amazes and inspires me.
5. Looking Ahead
The cons this year have been wonderful; the fans have been wonderful. Here’s what is coming up next:
- Saturday morning, June 6: I will be teaching a class on the Beatitudes — based on my book Lives of Unstoppable Hope — at Platt Park Church in Denver, CO;
- Fri-Sun, August 14-16: I will be the Author Guest of Honor at Myths & Legends Con (MALCon) here in Denver. I’ll be doing a fireside reading at night from my stories, and teaching a two-hour class, Write Characters Your Readers Won’t Forget. By the way, my fans get a discount on their registration. Just use the code zombies4life! when you register, and then come see me at the con!
I am also excited to announce that I am embarking on a major, major project — re-issuing The Zombie Bible independently, the way I have always dreamed of it: with breathtaking fantasy covers and audiobooks with an absolutely wonderful narrator. I am also correcting some small errors throughout, in preparation for releasing the premium editions. It’s going to be exciting! And no small investment.
- If you would like to be involved in the process (seeing the covers early, brainstorming for the launch of the new editions, and seeing drafts of Book 6 in the series), come join me on Patreon: www.patreon.com/stantlitore. This is Stant Litore’s Air Force One, where everything is happening. You’ll want to be there.
- If you would like to support from afar, recommend my books to friends and family and those quirky coworkers! Royalties this summer will go directly toward re-issuing the series and getting it out to new readers. We’ve already had a good start, a good run, and now powerful wings are going to burst from these books’ spines and they are going to SOAR. It is going to be BIG. (Book 6 is a door-stopper. Ancient Rome. The wandering dead. An early female church leader gathering thousands of refugees for an exodus you will never forget.) This is the link to share with people who may be interested in my stories: www.amazon.com/author/stantlitore – Let’s get the word out!
Thank you all. I published my first novel in 2011. It has been almost four years, and those have been an incredible four years. Now come join me — we’re going to launch Stage II.
I have been blessed in the last two weeks to spend a lot of time with two groups of wonderful teens, speaking to them as a guest author. These were both very different and wonderful experiences; any time I get to work as an author with young people, that is a treasured day.
Here are a few photos and stories from recent events in Atlanta, GA and Niwot, CO:
In Alpharetta, Georgia — a beautiful town outside Atlanta (very green!) and near the filming of AMC’s The Walking Dead, there is an academy for troubled youth. The owner, Rommys Beltran, and her sister Iris are fans of my work and invited me out to speak to the teens. With the help of my Patreon members, I sent a box of copies of What Our Eyes Have Witnessed to the school over the winter, and my publisher 47North generously matched the gift with a box of their own. Iris had shared with me (anonymously, without names attached) some stories of the teens that near broke my heart. These are good teens trying to turn their lives around after being in some bad places. Some have been involved in drugs; one young girl was prostituted by her brother. Heart-wrenching stories. When I visited, I could see in their faces — some of these kids don’t believe they have the right to have dreams.
So I sent them What Our Eyes Have Witnessed, which is about people in intense poverty in the ancient world’s most awful ghetto — the Subura in Rome — who choose to live lives of unstoppable hope. It is a powerful story and I chose it carefully; the main characters include an apostle running a soup kitchen, a rescued sex slave, and a rich kid who is overwhelmed by the poverty he sees and who tries to get involved. The story is also full of zombies. The teens of the AYA (Advancing Youth’s Academy) love zombie stories. Atlanta, GA is zombie fandom central: the home of The Walking Dead and the home, too, of a paintball battlefield whose owners hire actors to play the part of zombies out to get the paintgun-wielding patrons.
It is hard not to love Georgia!
I started by reading a scene where Father Polycarp faces the dead; the teens were riveted. I’m told that I’m a very performative reader; I’m very, very into it. Iris and Rommys, for their part, told me how good it was to see their kids engaged and into something.
Afterward, the teens and I talked for quite a while. We talked about zombies, about being an author, about what it’s like growing up, about being brave and having dreams. I met wonderful kids here in Atlanta — young people like Camilo, who wants to be a writer, and Jocelyn and Isaiah and Jarred and Maily—good kids, who just need someone to believe in them.
One of the teens asked me, “Are you from Atlanta?”
“No.” I explained that I live in Colorado.
“Are you here just to talk to us?” He looked baffled.
“Yes,” I said. “I came out here just to talk with you. That is the one reason I’m in Atlanta.”
The message: I value you. I believe in you.
That, I hope, is a powerful message.
When I signed books for them, the school’s owner told me that many of these teens don’t have much of anything that is theirs. To have this book by an author they’ve met is meaningful.
Camilo saw my email address in the book. He asked if he could email me. “You can,” I said.
I hope he will.
And this morning, I heard that one of the teens had told Iris that What Our Eyes Have Witnessed was the first book he had ever read through.
I told the school’s owner, Rommys Beltran, and her sister Iris, that this visit to AYA that they were thanking me for was a gift they had made to me. To see an entire room of teens who were so into one of my stories, who had been moved and puzzled and then motivated by it, to know that for a few of them at least, the story had made a difference, to see their eyes light up in considering new possibilities, that is a powerful gift. When I explained how much I love reading to people, and how I read to my wife each night to distract her from her chronic pain so that she can sleep, one of the young women, her eyes lit up. When I said that you just have to find that one thing you really enjoy and pursue it and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t, one of the young men grew excited.
That touches my heart. I hope some of these teens will live lives of unstoppable hope. I believe in them.
I spent last weekend in Niwot, Colorado, very near the mountains — a beautiful town. At the Grange, the Grey Havens Group came together for their second Real Myth and Mithril symposium (I attended the first as a guest of honor in 2013). The Grey Havens Group is a nonprofit that is part Tolkien fan club, part community of scholars, and part literacy program for Boulder County, CO. They are wonderful people, and I am greatly fortunate to know them. This year, they brought with them their sister branch, Grey Havens YA. This is a program that brings together teens who love to read, gives them an opportunity to celebrate being nerds and bookish. They cosplay. They share stories. And they participate in “Geek Philosophy,” which has to be seen to be believed. At Real Myth and Mithril, I watched Kelly Cowling, the founder of Grey Havens, use a clip from Bladerunner to spark a wide-ranging epistemological and existential discussion with kids aged 11 to 17, who all participated vigorously in conversation about why human beings fear death. That was a powerful thing to witness. Powerful, too, listening to a panel of teens discuss how meeting a community of fellow nerds changed their lives, and how some of them are doing outreach to kids at their schools who feel isolated and alone.
On a personal level, I was touched to find several of the teens “fangirling” when they realized I was there. One of the young men had read a couple of my books; another wants to be a writer, and I gave him a copy of Write Characters Your Readers Won’t Forget. Talking with these teens who are fully embracing, unashamed, their love of the imagination — all I can say is that I would have given a great deal to be part of such a group when I was a teen. I have such respect for the work Kelly Cowling and Robyn Bosica are doing with these young people, and you can learn more about it here.
I also have great respect for the young people themselves. Judah, “Jayne,” and all the others — they are already doing bold, imaginative, and big things with their lives. You can see some of their art and fiction on the Grey Havens YA blog — stop by and cheer them on!
I also had the opportunity to reunite with a number of friends. In the photos above, you see me and fellow author TL Morganfield sharing deep thoughts about worldbuilding and the project of revisiting ancient myths. In the photo below, you see me and several science fiction mavens discussing representations of religion in science fiction, from Earthseed to the Fremen, in a very fun panel whimsically titled “Do You Have a Moment to Hear about the Kwisatz Haderach?”
It was a beautiful weekend, full of good conversation and good art and good music (much of it by the Grey Havens MInstrels themselves … besides being many, many other things, Grey Havens has its own band), and I signed many books.
But what I’ll remember most is the delight in the eyes of the young people, and the exuberant joy of sharing things they love with others who suspend judgment and enjoy their enjoyment. That is an incredibly healthy thing, and I am glad to have witnessed it. Young people give my brooding heart hope for the future!
SPEAKING OF HOPE...
Be on the lookout. One of the topics I spoke with young people about in both Atlanta and Niwot — living lives of unstoppable hope — is coming to a book near you, later this month: Update: This book is now available at: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00X4UYW2A
Lives of Unstoppable Hope will share the story of my daughter Inara’s battle to survive, and it will also involve a deep-sea swim through the beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount, and through the story behind the stories I write. I think you will like it very much.
If you believe in my work and wish to support it, join me at Patreon, and help me fund not only more amazing stories but also more amazing encounters with teens. Grey Havens YA is thriving and celebratory; the teens I met in Atlanta are struggling but I realized, seeing their faces, that they just need someone to believe in them — as Polycarp believed in Regina in What Our Eyes Have Witnessed. Regina, a rescued sex slave, becomes the deaconness of an underground church in ancient Rome, the weaver together of many lives. Despite a past of suffering and misery, Regina lives a life of unstoppable hope in that book. I believe these teens can, too. They just need someone to tell them that no matter what happened yesterday or what their lives have been like, they’re allowed to live a life of hope, allowed to dream, and read, and believe that tomorrow will be different.
Meeting them has touched me, and I will not forget them.
A happy author.
P.S. As I write this blog, I am also full-bellied and very sleepy. My hosts in Atlanta, Debrra and Bryan Randolph, have taken generous care of me here, and have taught me how in the South, “feeding you means love.” I am definitely a happy author. Now posting this and awaiting my flight home with a bag full of surprises for my girls.
P.P.S. Even as I was about to hit ‘Publish’ on this blog, I received a message from a fan in California:
So — I work in a lockdown juvenile facility. These kids are voracious readers. I have them all hopped up to read your series as I finish the books!
Stories are one of the most powerful tools we have, and I believe they are one of the few things that can empower us to turn a life around. This makes stories especially critical to youth.
My own fiction is not “young adult fiction,” but when I was a young adult, I read whatever “spoke” to me, whether it was “young adult” or not. I first read Dune in fourth grade — hardly “age-appropriate.” But how it lit my imagination on fire!
May you all live lives of unstoppable hope, and may each of you reading this live a powerful story.