Mensa’s third visit to Ask Me Another

40310644_1968739973165318_6812985245869015040_oTonight was the third of the five episodes of Ask Me Another that American Mensa is sponsoring, so I was there again, handing out freebies and information. Tonight was the biggest of the three we’ve attended: nearly 400 people packed the Bell House’s theatre to the gills, and Mensa was properly represented by me, Tanya Thomas, Sara London, John Christopher Hall, Anton Spivack, Greg Draves, Michele Rizack, my parents, and two of Sara’s friends. A good show, good response from the audience, a good time. Host Ophira Eisenberg and musical host Jonathan Coulton were really on their game tonight. A lot of material that won’t (probably can’t) make it to the actual program (the thrill of being in the studio audience, hearing everything that will wind up on the editing room floor), but they were funny and interesting. I was, however, surprised by how many people left immediately after the interview, with special guest comedian Nick Kroll, rather than stay for the end of the show.

The show usually tapes on Mondays, but for some reason, had to do a Wednesday this week. Since it’s the first Monday of the month, that meant I had to miss GNYM’s monthly trivia night at The Storehouse in Manhattan. But I got a report from David Tee, who was at trivia. I literally laughed out loud when I read his message. He texted to tell me we’d won, and I asked if it had been a good crowd of Mensans. He replied, “No. We won with four people. The amazing thing is no one there was on Jeopardy, wrote books, has their own wikipedia page, gave a TED talk, graduated from an Ivy League college, etc.”

(No photo tonight: the room was way too crowded.)

Mensa sponsors NPR program (again)

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Tonight they taped the second episode of NPR’s Ask Me Another sponsored by American Mensa. Again, Mensa was represented at the taping with a table, information, giveaways, and members. This time, it was me, Alex Filiakov, Christopher Hall, and Noel Strock, with several other members in attendance for the show.

Like last week (which you’ll be able to hear as a podcast download this Friday, or airing on NPR stations this weekend), I gave some brief introductory remarks, and then we all got to enjoy the show (which you’ll be able to download next Friday, October 5). This time, musical guest Jill Sobule started off with a song from her new album, Nostalgia Kills. The show was once again, a mixture of comedy, fun trivia, tough trivia, and some serious commentary. The interview portion was with actor/writer/comedian Tom Arnold.

After the show, NPR’s photographer took a nice group shot of the Mensan crowd. And then we realized we didn’t have the hosts in the photo, but the photographer was gone. So instead, we got this less-than-great photo on my cell phone. In the photo, left to right, we have: Musical Host Jonathan Coulton, Christopher Hall, me, Patrizia Calvio, Host Ophira Eisenberg, Leon Feingold, Al T., Noel Strock, and Alex Filiakov. In front, left to right, are: Carren Strock, Musical Guest Jill Sobule, and Jeffrey Collins-Harper.

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Capclave Convention Weekend

capclave_wordYep, I’ll be back on the road this coming weekend, for another science fiction convention. This weekend, I’m heading south, to the Washington Science Fiction Association’s Capclave (this year, in Rockville, Maryland). As usual, I’ll be tethered to the Fantastic Books table in the dealers’ room (currently scheduled to be open Friday from 3 to 6pm, Saturday from 10am to 6pm, and Sunday from 10am to 2pm). Remember, also, that this weekend is the continuing launch of Fantasy for the Throne, edited by Judith K. Dial & Tom Easton (we debuted the book at Albacon, but a book this big deserves a two-convention launch).

1515423301I’ll also be on a lot of programming items. Panels you’ll be able to see me on include:

Friday at 6pm in Eisenhower: “Small Press Publishing” with Danielle Ackley-McPhail, David Stokes, and Sean Wallace

Friday at 7pm in Monroe: “Biggest Mistakes Made by New Writers” with David Bartell, Wendy S. Delmater, and Michael A. Ventrella

Friday at 10pm in Eisenhower: “Gardner Dozois Memorial Panel” with Wendy S. Delmater, Scott Edelman, and Darrell Schweitzer

Friday at 11pm in Eisenhower: “Hot NOT to Get Published, a/k/a Late Night Tales from the Slush Pile” with Neil Clarke, Wendy S. Delmater, Bjorn Hasseler, Michael A. Ventrella, and Sean Wallace

Saturday at 2pm in Truman: “Ask Me Anything – Editor Edition” with Scott H. Andrews, Bjorn Hasseler, Mike McPhail, Bernie Mojzes, and Alex Shvartsman

Saturday at 4pm in Eisenhower: “To Self Publish or Not to Self Publish” with T. Eric Bakutis, Jonathan Brazee, Shahid Mahmud, Joan Wendland, and Kenesha Williams

Saturday at 10:30pm in Monroe: “Eye of Argon” with Hildy Silverman, Michael A. Ventrella, and a cast of dozens

Sunday at 11am in Truman: “Small Press Publishing 2019” with Daniell Ackley-McPhail, Neil Clarke, Sean Wallace, and Steven H. Wilson

Yep, I’ll be busy! And yep, they seem to have front-loaded the convention for me. But they’re all interesting subjects, so it looks to be a great weekend! Hope to see many of you there.

Mensa hosts NPR show

40310644_1968739973165318_6812985245869015040_oYou may have heard, or maybe not, but American Mensa is co-sponsoring five episodes of the NPR radio show Ask Me Another, hosted by Ophira Eisenberg and musically sidekicked by Jonathan Coulton. Tonight was the taping of our first episode.

41990668_10216176104254149_7154692062254727168_nTere Petersen, Dave Szalyga, and I represented Mensa this evening at Brooklyn’s Bell House (that’s them in the picture I took). I also gave brief introductory remarks (see Leon Feingold’s picture of me, below), and then we enjoyed the show, along with Leon and Erin Webreck.

The program they taped will be available as a podcast a week from Friday (September 28), and broadcast that weekend. We’ll be back there next week, for the second of our five episodes.

41938667_10155581748087797_7521936732707618816_oThe staff was very friendly and welcoming, the program was interesting, and the venue fairly comfortable. So overall, it was a good evening.

Oh, and telling a friend about this Sunday night, she said “we love that show!” And pointed me to a song by Jonathan Coulton, one that I listened to this afternoon (before the taping), and then was able to mention to him. He seemed pleased, and I think you, too, will enjoy listening to “Re: Your Brains.”

Convention Weekend (back to Albany)

This coming weekend is Albacon, a science fiction convention in Albany which will be another dose of cognitive dissonance. That’s because this year, Albacon will be at the same hotel I was in last weekend for RechaRGe.

At Albacon, I’ll be at my table in the dealers’ room, launching the new Judith K. Dial & Tom Easton anthology, Fantasy for the Throne: One-Sitting Reads (second in the series). I’ll also be on some panels:

Friday at 5pm: “2001 + 50″ with D. Cameron Calkins, Daniel M. Kimmel, J.A. Fludd, Warner, and Andre Lieven

Friday at 9pm: “Improvisational Storytelling” with Joshua Palmatier, Rick Ollerman, Ryk Spoor, and Barbara Chepaitis

Saturday at 1pm: “Democratization of Publishing” with Eugene Mirabelli, Tom Easton, Pamela Sargent, and Barbara Chepaitis

Saturday at 3pm: “Boys’ Adventure SF: Is It Dead and Gone?” With Debra Doyle, Wendy Delmater, John F. Holmes, Huston, and Jim Macdonald

Hope to see some of you there!

F&SF about The Bend at the End of the Road

76ee412223ff59f82b7e32b3f1ee1014-w2041xCharles de Lint, in the September/October 2018 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, has some good things to say about Barry N. Malzberg’s The Bend at the End of the Road. In part, he says: “…while I don’t agree necessarily with all of Malzberg’s conclusions, I still found these essays to be eminently readable and useful in terms of solidifying my own opinions on the various matters under discussion. There’s also a wealth of history of the field and the wider world at large that comes into play in these writings that I found both fascinating and at times alarming…. So — not for everyone. Or maybe for everyone, but as a wake-up call. Malzberg says in an afterword that this collection is his way of quitting the essay business and saying good-bye. I find that unfortunate, because his is a voice that needs to be heard.”

Convention Weekend

logo-copyThis coming weekend, it’s a Mensa convention. I’ll be at Mensa of Northeastern New York’s RechaRGe Regional Gathering (Friday to Monday) in Albany, New York. Unlike science fiction conventions, there’s no dealers’ room, so I’ll have much more opportunity to just sit and socialize. But I am on the program, twice:

Saturday, at 10am, I’ll be running the RVC1 Meet and Greet. The program book’s description: “As Regional Vice Chairman, Ian Randal Strock is your representative on the American Mensa Committee (our national board of directors). Come talk with him to find out what’s going on in the business of Mensa, and to share your concerns about the organization we all love.”

Sunday, at 11am, it will be a modification of a talk I gave in January to a writers’ group, entitled “You’ve Written a Book: Now What?”. The program book’s description: “The biggest debate in publishing these days is what to do after you’ve finished writing your books: seek a traditional publisher, go with a small press, or self-publish it? Each route has advantages and disadvantages, potential for great success or abject obscurity. Ian Randal Strock has worked both sides of the editorial desk throughout his career in publishing: he’s been an editor and publisher for major houses and small presses, and worked with self-published authors. And as an author, he has sold books to major publishers and small publishers, and self-published some of his work. His prepared talk is on the plusses and minuses of each route to publication, but in this small-discussion format, he’ll welcome questions from the audience to guide the direction of the talk. Within Mensa, Ian is the Regional Vice Chairman representing Region 1.”

Hope to see all you Mensans there!

It Came From Beyond!

icfbMy friend Rachel had an extra ticket, so tonight we saw It Came From Beyond, a science fiction musical.

As a New Yorker, I may be a bit jaded about seeing Broadway productions. It’s not an every-month experience, but not a once-in-a-lifetime experience either. So at first I was a bit put-off by the experience of seeing this off-Broadway show. But once I got into it, I realized it was a charming story with a great script and some very good performances (I particularly liked the range of emotion Vera the computer showed with only the word “beep”).

Writer and producer Cornell Christianson (who produced The Paper Chase) just happened to be at tonight’s performance, and gave a brief introduction. He was also available to chat after the show, but that’s not what you care about.

It Came From Beyond opens in a 1950s middle American high school. Nerdy little Harold is reading the comic book It Came From Beyond, looking for the key to his science project. Jock Steve is just who you’d expect, and pretty Becky is the girl of everyone’s dreams. Becky’s father, Mr. Fielding, is the teacher who catches Harold and Steve at the end of their tiff, and gives them both detention, as well as forcing them to work together on their science project. And then there’s Miss Benson, the cooking teacher who only has eyes for Mr. Fielding, the widower.

As Christianson said in his introduction, his specialty is that he writes musicals “with a unique structure of two parallel and interconnecting stories that go back and forth between two worlds.” In tonight’s show, the characters very adroitly change their appearance or outfit when the story shifts between 1950s high school and the world of It Came From Beyond (glasses on or off, tie on or off, and so on). In that world, Harold is the Professor, whose scientific experiment will save the world from the aliens; Steve is the rocket salesman our jock would probably have grown into; Mr. Fielding is the Colonel, who only wants to bomb the commies first; and Miss Benson is Private Jayne, who only has eyes for the Colonel. Oh, and Becky is… Becky (“she even has my name!”). Backed up by six dancing/singing soldiers, our heroes must save the Earth… once they realize we really are under attack.

Other than a few of the songs running a bit too long, the story was fun and gripping. It’s obvious the author is a long-time science fiction fan from way back (catching the sly little references to the classics and near-classics is a fun little extra to the performance). So I can definitely recommend It Came From Beyond for a fun night Off-Broadway (currently at St. Luke’s Theatre).

Note: I wrote this review before looking at the web site (www.itcamefrombeyond.com). Then I looked at the site, and realized that the earlier performances apparently had much more serious productions, with full sets (the staging at St. Luke’s was minimal to non-existent: three desks, three boxes for sitting, and a handful of props). But as I said above, the story is the reason to go to the show; the staging is only a minor concern.

New England Road Trip

I’ve already announced this in my Mensa circles, but thought I’d talk to a wider circle. This weekend, as Regional Vice Chariman of American Mensa, I’ll be making a tour of three or four of the local groups in New England. I’ll be in Hamden, Connecticut, Friday evening. Saturday evening, I’ll be in Sharon, Vermont. And Sunday will take me to Merrimack, New Hampshire (and/or possibly Littleton, Massachusetts).

A member in Vermont has graciously offered me a spare room for Saturday night, but I don’t yet have plans for Friday night.

Also, Saturday morning/early afternoon, I’m thinking of visiting the Calvin Coolidge Homestead and Grave in Plymouth, Vermont, if anyone is interested in joining me.

Visiting TR’s place

irsatroosevelthouse16aug2018I really like having out-of-town guests. They get me out of the house, give me an excuse to be a tourist at home, and enjoy this wonderful city through their eyes. Today, I got to touring thanks to Mary Chudley.

I was born in New York City, lived here most of my life, and even wrote books on the Presidents, but until today, I had never visited the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace. Mind you, it’s not in some out-of-the-way, difficult-to-get-to place. It’s at 28 East 20th Street in Manhattan. I am literally within meters of the place a minimum of twice a month (I walk along Broadway to get from the subway stop to the place where we go for trivia once a month). I mean seriously, how could I not have visited before?

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Political cartoon at the TR House. At the top, it says “N.Y. State Convention”. The figure on the left is Senator Platt, and on the right, TR.

Well, Mary came to town today, and she had a few destinations in mind, but I mentioned the TR place, said I’d never been there, and she said “Why not? Let’s go!” It was just off the route I’d planned to walk anyway (again, those few meters from Broadway), and it was open. So we went.

The rangers on duty were friendly and knowledgeable, so we looked through the display cases and pictures downstairs, and then joined up with the tour of the upper floors. We saw the house in which TR and his siblings were born, and lived the first 14 years of TR’s life. Saw some of the original furnishings and decor. The ranger leading the tour focused on how our childhood creates the adults we become, while giving the tour in two languages simultaneously. A lot of it felt very familiar, because I’ve just recently finished reading TR’s autobiography, but that doesn’t diminish from the impact of being there. And, in addition to these pictures, I didn’t take a picture of the speech that was in his pocket when he was shot in 1912, which is there, bullet hole and all.

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TR’s pen from the TR House. There are teeth marks at the end.

They don’t have my books in the gift shop (but it is a rather small shop, so I wasn’t miffed — besides, I did see my book at Sagamore Hill when we were there), but other than that, it was wonderful.

Then we continued on the originally planned route: through Union Square, to Forbidden Planet, the Strand, New York Costumes, through Astor Place to St. Mark’s Place, then to Washington Square Park, and back up to Penn Station. A very good day.