Haphazard Observations of the Everyday

And a little fiction by Miguela Holt y Roybal

Miguela Holt y Roybal

Miguela Holt y Roybal
New Mexico, USA
March 10
Monarch of All She Surveys
Miguela Holt y Roybal is my maiden name en Espanol. I am a retired schoolteacher and aspiring author looking for crumbs of beauty among the ruins. My novel has been a work in progress for longer than I care to admit. It is a postmodern pastiche of magical realism and about a young woman from New Mexico who goes to work in Washington, DC during the 1980s. She has been a longtime witness to the secret rituals of the Penitente culture in her home state and learns about herself and redemption as she sallies forth on her quest for novelty and adventure. I claim fair useage of images found on the internet that illustrate some of my posts. All contents copyrighted by the author unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.


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APRIL 2, 2012 10:41AM

Science Fiction Authors Invade Small Town: Photo Essay

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space invaf

 (Illustration "Settlement Out of Court" by Ed Emshwiller from Galaxy Science Fiction, July 1953.)

A Weekend of Science Fiction

Roswell, the renowned crash-landing site of an alien spaceship, is only a two-hour drive from Portales, New Mexico, the Peanut Capital of the World.  What is not as widely known is that for the past thirty-six years, creators of alien worlds and beings have been gathering every spring on the campus of Eastern New Mexico University to pay homage to one of their own and also the town's favorite son, Science Fiction Grand Master, Jack Williamson.


(Image courtesy of ENMU Monday Memo. Statue of Jack Williamson presented to the university by Chinese students.)

He was a brilliant and daring pioneer of the genre whose prolific canon that spanned nine decades inspired legions of other writers and coined probably half of science fiction's concepts and jargon such as genetic engineering, terra forming, and the idea of human-machine hybrids.  Here is a link to his amazing lifetime of writing: 


The Lectureship

Did I mention that Dr. Williamson was also a beloved and inspiring professor at the university?  He taught English and wrote award-winning science fiction until he was in his mid-nineties.  Although Williamson died five years ago, the legacy of his lectureship lives on with noted authors from around the globe convening on his home turf for readings, panel discussions, and a workshop for teen writers of science fiction.

wmson Lectrshp

"We are not from here."

It's true that the visitors who swept into town for the weekend's events are hard to spot.  Science Fiction writers look just like normal people and freely admit that the only discernable difference between them and those of us from this conservative community is that they are the ones who have "bad bumper stickers."  This year's distinguished panelists were Connie Willis, Carrie Vaughn, Daniel Abraham, Steven Gould, Stephen Haffner, Darynda Jones, Joan Saberhagen, Melinda Snodgrass, Ian Tregellis, and Walter Jon Williams.  The gracious people on campus led by Dr. Patrice Caldwell and indeed folks all over Portales welcomed them warmly on behalf of Jack Williamson.

The New Grand Master

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Here is a clever disguise.  This refined and demure looking lady holding a comemorative Nambe platter presented by ENMU, is the group's Grand Master and expedition leader to this desolate and arid land, Connie Willis.  

Grand Master of Science Fiction is a recent honor bestowed upon Willis, who has written many award winning books known for their comedy of manners and imaginative complexity.  Her latest novel, All Clear, was the winner of both the Hugo and Nebula Awards last year.

Tears for the Departed Master of Grand Masters

jack and connie 2003

(Photo of Jack Williamson with Connie Willis in 2003 by ENMU Monday Memo.)

A lady with a ready smile, she turned tearful during her keynote speech at a pleasant luncheon held on Friday in the campus ballroom.   She wished that her longtime mentor and friend, Jack Williamson, had lived to see her follow in his footsteps as Grand Master of Science Fiction.

"We have traveled from great distances."

In her speech, Willis continued to praise the Lectureship saying how much it meant to her and the other writers to honor Jack Williamson.  "We are not from here," she said.  "We traveled great distances and so you know we think the world of Jack and that Portales is very special."  The local spectators were surprised when she named the five major attractions in our town for which she said the writers had a great deal of interest.   As a long time resident, I was impressed at how these strangers were able to hone into the hidden jewels of our community.  We learned what they came here for:   Jack Williamson, the art, the kids, and the food.

The science fiction writers, it was no surprise, liked the libraries--the Portales Public Library as well as the Golden Library on campus.  I always loved the idea of The Golden Library.  It's very name evokes beautiful treasured books of unfathomable wonder even though I know it was dedicated to a Dr. Floyd Golden, one of the founders of ENMU.  Willis, said that there would be a workshop for young writers about dialogue held at the public library on Saturday.

Another site of interest to the sci-fi writers, she said, was located in the administration building on the campus of the university-- the gorgeous and newly restored mural by Lloyd Moylen that I wrote about not too long ago here at the Open Salon:


The United State Post Office appealed to them because it, too, has a distinctive mural by Santa Fe artist Theodore Van Soelen that was commissioned by the WPA and depicts subtly stylized buffalo, a species that is all but extinct, caught in a rainstorm. 

Portales is not known for its cuisine, but the sci-fi writers have known for years about Mark's, the little cafe near campus where I meet with my friends for a weekly lunch.  She reminded the audience how Williamson regularly ate the juevos rancheros there and recalled that one year Harlan Ellison famously asked to be served bacon made from free-range pigs.  My friend Dr. Oviedo noted that the writers were in and out of the restaurant all weekend using it as a kind of base camp.

The final Portales go-to spot is the Dairy Queen for a local specialty made with peanuts.  As Willis enumerated our special places, we Portalesanos couldn't help but feel efficiently infiltrated by the science fiction writers.

Understanding the Genre of Urban Fantasy

The two main authors who spoke at the luncheon are writers of the subgenre of Science Fiction known as Urban Fantasy.  Carrie Vaughn, bestselling author of the Kitty Norville series, explained the importance of understanding niche in writing.  I, like many others, thought that Urban Fantasy was any fantasy set in a city like Bladerunner that was based on a story by Phillip K. Dick.  Vaughn pointed out that the elements that make up Urban Fantasy have been around since Jane Austin's Necromancer of the Black Forest. 

sci fi convention 2012 066

(Carrie Vaughn holds the plaque presented to her by Patrice Caldwell at the Sci-Fi luncheon.  She noted that the Clovis point looks like the Star Trek symbol for The Enterprise.)

The very pretty and petite author explained that Urban Fantasy, the hottest market in publishing, is a rather large umbrella where the lines are blurred between the normal and the monstrous but that its main requirement is a "kick ass heroine."  The difference between a "paranormal romance" like Twlight and urban fantasy is that in the paranormal romance, the couple gets together whereas, in Urban Fantasy,no.Steel

 Hugo winner and a prolific Albuquerque author, Daniel Abraham's speech on the same subject took a different approach.  He acknowledged that genre writing is despised among the literati but people buy it!  It is a class issue.  If he wanted to impress people with his reading material, he would have on display Stephen Hawking's treatise on time, a book he owns but has never read.  Science Fiction has low prestige because there is no social advantage to reading it for it is nothing but pure escape.

He explained that what we escape from tells us what we are escaping to and pointed out that Romance is the queen of all genres because humans have a deep fear of being lonely and loveless.  Romance like Urban Fantasy is strictly formulaic and any violation of the form equals punishment.  The writer broke the covenant with his reader. 


Like Vaughn, Abraham acknowledged the hot weaponized woman in the bustier bringing violence and control to a safer world with her intellect (see image above).  The formulas often have social purpose.  He points out that the UF heroine has no real ambition because that would be evil, instead the situations are thrust upon her.  

Her primary relationship is with a man and she acts solo in her pursuits of justice.  There are no groups of women working together.  She has no loss of femininity while freeing us from fear.  These traits say much about today's women, power, gender, and sexuality.  One has only to look at women's recent fight for reproductive rights to know that woman's work is not yet done.  He concluded that Science Fiction in its many permutations opens up countless avenues to dream and that often reality can fill that space. 

sci fi convention 2012 065

(Speaker Daniel Abraham with fellow author Antony Oldknow who is also on The Williamship Lectureship Organizing Team.)

Buying Books

After luncheon, participants had the opportunity to buy books by the authors and have them signed.  Because I am on a budget this year, I didn't look at any of the books displayed on the long table.  A sad confession is that I don't read much science fiction anymore and so it is hard to justify purchasing more of that genre.  I already have a full shelf of all my sci-fi favorites and so I turned away and headed to Golden Library, a quiet place to get away from the crowd.   I regret not picking up Connie's new book, though.  Maybe next year.

sci fi convention 2012 070

As ever, it is always a pleasure to enter the campus library.  In the summer the walkway is fragrant with many Russian olive trees just now beginning to sprout.

sci fi convention 2012 078

Golden Library's shimmering magic was ever present.  Look what I found in the lobby.  The Special Collections was getting rid of some books from the Science Fiction section and they were for sale!  Most volumes were one dollar.  It was wonderful to have an unexpected sci-fi fix at a very deep discount. 

enmu booksale

Here are the books that came home with me.  Lovely hardbacks with nicely designed dust jackets:  There will be Time and Three hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson, Approaching Oblivion by Harlan Ellison, and Mr. Adam by Pat Frank.

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I found some pulps from 1950s through the 1970s--Galaxy Science Fiction.  These old magazines contain original stories by many science fiction greats including Jack Williamson.

books 008 

Here's an odd assortment of paperbacks by some of my favorites.

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 For the Youth:  About Dialogue

Connie Willis and Steven Gould, author of Jumper filmed in 2002, led the workshop for teen writers of science fiction at the public library on Saturday morning.  Seven participants showed up for the workshop about the secrets of writing good dialogue.  Willis was once a teacher and it showed in her engaging lesson that began with a discussion of some of her favorite television shows and why she liked them:   Primieval and Alice.  These are programs that the students also watch and so the conversation was animated by the enthusiasm of her young listeners.

In addition to teaching the correct punctuation for various configurations of dialogue including the interrobang, students were taught the key importance of subtext because Willis explained that conversations are rarely about what they are about.  Dialogue about what it's about is boring, she declared.

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Students were assigned to write ten lines of dialogue with given subtexts:  wanting to commit murder, being in love, having to go to the bathroom.  In only fifteen minutes, clever dialogues were composed and presented before the group with lively constructive criticism.  As a longtime teacher, I would have added some fun Tom Swiftys to explain why the simple word, "said," is the standard choice for engaging in dialogue.

I learned something from the workshop, too.  Internal dialogue should be written in italics otherwise readers are confused that something might have really happened until they get to the end of the passage that explains that it all was a thought. 

In fact, consideration of the reader was the major theme of the workshop.  Everytime a reader has to look up a difficult word or stop to decipher a confusing passage, he is taken out of the story and that is undesireable.  The best authors want their readers to forget that they are reading and feel like they are actually there in the midst of the action.

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After the workshop, Steven Gould and Connie Willis chatted with parents who were allowed to watch the action from the back of the classroom.

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The students enjoyed the workshop because there was a lot of laughter that went along with the learning.  Here are two of the participants smiling for the camera after their dialogue indoctrination by a master of the form.

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On the way home from the library, I thought I would stop by the Dairy Queen for the menu item that the science fiction writers couldn't get enough of--the feul that they ordered before leaving our town and returning from whence they came.

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A local specialty--The Peanut Buster Parfait!

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Literati be damned! While we are at it,
Mr. Hawking, for all his brilliance, tells us only of our physical universe.
Which is endlessly fascinating, surely, but ultimately
empty of any real lasting significance.
For the human situation, I mean.
Physics is about the basement of the universe.
It's always good to know what's going on in the cellar, certainly,
but up here in the damn attic,
we homo sapiens have more pressing concerns.
Some of us say the house is on fire!
We are up on the roof, looking skyward.
THAT is where the sci fi guys and gals are.
We expect physicists & physicians & pschologists & politicians
to swoop down and save us,
but they are are trapped as we, investigating stuff from
the lower floors...and what is in the attic...

My favorite has always been Harlan Ellison, that perverse elf.

Did you have one of those days today, like a nail in the foot?
Did the pterodactyl corpse
dropped by the ghost of your mother
from the spectral Hindenburg forever circling the Earth
come smashing through the lid of your glass coffin? ... Is the slab under your apartment building moaning that it cannot stand the weight on its back a moment longer,
and is the building stretching and creaking?... This is the hour that stretches. Djam karet.
We are the cavalry. We're here.
Put away the pills. We'll get you through this bloody night.
Next time, it'll be your turn to help us.
"Eidolons" (1988)
Great essay. Wonderful photos.

And...they did come in peace to Portales.
That Peanut Blaster did me in at the end of this delightful post. I have considered writing a whole post about that tasty treat as it has been a part of my life for a long time. There must be a Science Fiction theme in there somewhere.
I wondered about the term "interrobang" and enjoyed all the workshop tips. I especially like the idea of being kind to your readers so they don't zone out of the action. There is more taking place in dialogue than just the dialogue. Great post. Thanks.
What writers do for fun. Enjoyed this!
I would have gone to the barber had I known you would take my picture.
Where's the EP? This was brilliant and I thank you for putting so much work in. A fascinating post that is a ScannerPick regardless!
I still have a 1976 rejection letter from Ben Bova at Analog who read my short story and said that though it was well written Analog only published stories that viewed technology in a positive light. Any time I start doubting my skills I read that letter and imagine Bova actually reading my story. Most comprehensive and excellent post!
Steven Gould? AND Connie? AND I MISSED IT AGAIN?!

That's it. I've got to find a way to move back out that way so I can make it next year.

I think Bladerunner was originally titled "Do Androids dream of Electric Sheep?" If that qualifies as urban fantasy, may I also beg inclusion of William Gibson's Neuromancer?

And the advice about dialogue would apply to any writer, not just the young. Thanks for including it.

There's so much worthwhile here, I'll have to come back again to sample more (Such as that Peanut Blaster Parfait.)

What wonderful reporting. I have never read Sci Fi but I do love a few of the shows on the Sci-Fi channel. Your post has given me a fresh look at the genre.
rated with love
I read each Tom Swift before I sold them years ago. Now they are only worth the enjoyment they give you for a good read.
Loved this..
Gould would be interesting, and Saberhagen is wonderful. There aren't many authors I'd like to hang out with. I think William Gibson would be fun to have a beer with, but then I suspect I wouldn't understand any of his jokes. And he probably only drinks Austrian microbrews made after June or something...

Was the writing workshop really helpful, or stressful?

Cleverly done, Miguela. Sci fi has never caught on with me altho I've read two or three that made lasting impressions. Far and away the most intriguing was The Black Cloud by British astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle. Long out of print, with used copies going on Amazon for 30-some buckaroos, I have a paperback copy in a box in the basement. I'd consider selling, but I want to keep it. First read it as an early or pre-teen. Can't imagine a more apt place to host a sci fi conference than within a quick saucer hop of Roswell. Y'all get a tour of Hangar 41?
I rarely read science fiction, but I'll never forget about Hari Seldon and psychohistory. I've got a few works by J.G. Ballard on my shelf still waiting to be read. But then he's not classical science fiction, but more a politico-psycho-sexual-dystopian.
O heck! I was just about to get off a PM to scanner to tell him that this is a MUST READ blog of the highest order. Then I read the comments and there's his ol' ugly mug lookin' out at me.

The literati despise SciFi because it reaches heights of imagination, speculation, and peregrination unknown to them. The green cast to their features when they speak of the Greats of SciFi gives them away every time.

Writers write. Science Fiction writers write gloriously!

Awesome piece of reporting. I liked the way you made it sound as if the writers attending the conference were from another planet. It worked well with the genre. This account is an excellent example of creative nonfiction writing. R
What a great post. Well done and interesting. I must read more sci-fi.
Thoughts of Roswell and its legacy always give new meaning to the concept of "illegal aliens." Gary Larson, the Far Side cartoonist, had some hilarious illustrations of six-armed, five-eyed, undocumented little green men hoeing lettuce.
What a life you are leading! Great photos and vignette.
Oh I am so jealous! Connie Willis in particular is one of my literary heroes. I feel she should have sued Michael Crichton for ripping off the concept of "Domesday Book", a much better effort than "Timeline" in any case. The even poorer film adaptation of the latter probably ensures we will never see a movie version of Connie's masterpiece. I burned out on sci-fi some years ago, and have been thinking of getting back into it again. As a youngster I read tons - a new batch of cheap pulp paperbacks hitting our local Woolworths would see me falling asleep in class the next day, having read two or three in one night!
Great rundown, Miguela - makes me want to visit new Mexico! R.
What a wonderful post! Were it not for a horrific car crash in 1981, I would have been a Greyhound...ENMU was my college of choice back then. Thanks for showing me I had good instincts!
I read this a couple of days ago and just now have a moment to come back and comment. Nothing short of AWESOME!
Think of this, people from Open Salon - and any stray readers of Real Salon. This is a small science fiction convention. It is also pretty much only a literary con. (Very much like OASIS in Orlando this Memorial Day weekend...hint, hint.)

The bigger cons have more writers, and more activities. Although many old-time fans saw Star Wars and other movies as horrid, those films brought fans to cons where authors could be seen, and kids could be introduced to science fiction literature - and the interesting and eccentric people who wrote those stories.

As I keep reminding you, only ten percent of the American public knows how to read. Much of that ten percent are science fiction fans. And yes, the brilliant, talented and funny authors of science fiction books show up at the cons. Since they're no longer paid to write, like all writers, they have to make part of their living by selling their own books, sometimes with autographs.

And there's probably a con near you, or within a day or two's travel. Ask at role-playing-game shops, or comic book shops, the two places you're likely to learn about conventions in your area. And get this - you don't have to wear weird costumes or get into debates about whether Han Solo shot first or not. You can wear casual clothes, just like most of the people at the con, including the authors.
How did I miss this? It's terrif! Rated.
Nice! I have only relatively recently returned to the land of reading fiction, after a fairly long hiatus during premed and med school. It just takes a different part of the brain and concentration to be able to immerse, which is how I like to read fiction. I just finished two of the three Hunger Games books, and just finished two of the three Tana French (Murder Squad) books and was wondering what I will be reading after I am done with Mockingjay (probably in a day or two's reading). I do like me some good scifi, and my sweetie has quite the collection- including a few you photo'd above. Maybe I will also check out the new one, All Clear.
Cool. I'm delighted this got an EP.
At your best... you are amazing, Miguela. By the way, I've been "away" for awhile, taking your advice and writing it down.
Excellent.Take me to your leader.
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An excellent post and a well-deserved EP. I learned something new. Yay! rated
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