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[SFFWRTCHT] A Chat with Writer/Con Expert/Toastmaster Susan E. Satterfield

Susan E. Satterfield has chaired, co-chaired and been a department head in more areas at more conventions that even she cares to remember. She is also one of the founders of Kansas City’s adults-only science fiction convention, Contraception. She’s worked on OKon, MellOKon, and SuVicCon in Tulsa, Oklahoma and on ConQuesT and Contraception in Kansas City as well as assisted with the two Kansas City Nebula Awards ceremonies. She is learning to say “no,” but it’s taken thirty years. Her short fiction has been published by Yard Dog Press, Costcom Entertainment, and  can be found on, and she’s even profiled in the Science Fiction Museum online. Married to Jim, she teaches in the English Department at Longview Community College in Lee’s Summit, Missouri.

SFFWRTCHT: Where’d your interest in SFF come from?

Susan E. Satterfield: I was always a voracious reader, but around 8 years old I discovered A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs, which led me to the science fiction section at the library.  I’ve been reading it ever since.

SFFWRTCHT: Have you been involved in Cons and Cosplay since childhood? 

SES: I didn’t start going to conventions until my early twenties.  I lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and while I knew about cons from Asimov’s and Amazing, they always seemed to be on the east and west coast.  It wasn’t until 1977 when I attended my very first OKon.  By the next year, I was on the con committee, and I haven’t looked back.  Since then I’ve worked on well over fifty conventions including OKon, MelloKon, ConQuesT, Contraception, and even ran the masquerade for Soonercon for a number of years.  I’ve worked on three Worldcons, two Nebula Awards, and was Vice Chairman for the World Horror Con in 2003.  Fandom has been a major part of my entire adult life.

SFFWRTCHT: Who were some of your favorite authors/books growing up and now?

SES: Many of the authors I read growing up are still my favorites today.  Of course, the works of Burroughs holds a special place in my heart, but I also am as huge fan of Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, J.R.R. Tolkien, Anne McCaffrey, Connie Willis, Lois McMaster Bujold, George R.R. Martin, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Sherri Tepper among many others.  I’m just a fan of good fiction no matter what the genre.

SFFWRTCHT: You’ve been involved with ConQuest for a number of years. How did that come about?

SES: When my husband Jim (who’s from KC) and I moved from Tulsa to KC in 1985, one of the first things we did was join (actually rejoin) KacSFFS and volunteer to work on ConQuesT.  We’ve been attending ConQuesT since BYOB-con days, and were members of the club in 1978-1980 after we first married.  We moved back to my hometown in early 80s.  I’ve worked on every ConQuesT since then except for a few years ago when I had pneumonia.  I’ve co-chaired with Becky Rickart four times, and have worked a number of different areas including programming, masquerade, and even consuite once or twice.  I guess I’m just a sucker when it comes to working on cons.

SFFWRTCHT: What is a toastmaster and why do Cons needs one?

SES: A toastmaster’s duties are like those of an Emcee.  At Opening Ceremonies, the TM introduces the guests among other things.  Duties can vary from convention to convention.  At some cons, the TM also hosts the Masquerade and/or other events.  At others, it’s mainly at Opening Ceremonies.  TM’s can come in very handy especially if the Con Chair would rather not speak a lot.  TM’s can also help set the tone of the convention—as for me, let’s just say I have some silliness planned.  With the year everyone has had, I think a good dose of silly will pave the way for a wonderful convention.

SFFWRTCHT: How do you be a good toastmaster?

SES: Being a good toastmaster is as much about listening as it is about talking.  You need to listen to the people running the convention, so you fully understand what is expected.  You also need to be able to ad lib as necessary—sometimes that’s the most important skill.  A good TM also does research on the other guests and tries to find interesting stories to share about them….hopefully really interesting stories.

SFFWRTCHT: You’re also a writer and a teacher. How’d you get involved with writing? How long until your first sale?

SES: To me, writing and reading go hand in hand.  I’ve written as long as I can remember—I just never submitted anything until I took my first creative writing class.  One assignment was to send a story to a magazine along with a cover letter, then to include that and the rejection letter in my final portfolio.  Imagine my surprise when I got a contract in the mail.  I was a little worried because the assignment instructions clearly stated “rejection” letter.  Luckily, my professor accepted the contract instead.

SFFWRTCHT: What genres do you typically write?

SES: While I’ve written stories in science fiction and fantasy genres, the last few years I’ve been more successful in writing horror.  Actually, I’ve been selling stories and poems involving zombies in one aspect or another. I guess I’m a little more bloodthirsty than I thought.   I also write some non-fiction mostly related to academia in one form or another.

SFFWRTCHT: Where can we find your work? Will we find any at the Con?

SES: My work is available through Yard Dog Press, and Costcom Entertainment.  Be sure to stop by the Yard Dog table in the Dealer’s area to pick up my latest story “A Bad Case of the Munchies” from the anthology I Should Have Stayed In Oz. A number of the authors who have stories in this book will be here ConQuesT weekend, so it would be a great time to collect their autographs.

SFFWRTCHT: What projects are in the works which we can look forward to?

SES:  Right now I’m working on a YA novel involving werewolves, an SF novel involving an alien virus, and a couple of zombie short pieces.   I’ve also got a couple of other weird ideas bouncing around in my head.  They’re just not quite ready to be put on the page yet.

SFFWRTCHT: How’d you learn craft? Study in school? Practice makes perfect?

SES: While I did take a number of creative writing course in my academic career, I learned most by simply writing.  Some of it was good.  A lot of it was absolutely awful, but even the bad stuff is a learning experience.  The best advice any writer can get or give is just that—to write.

SFFWRTCHT: How do your skills as a teacher relate to the skills needed for being a good toastmaster?

SES: Actually the same set of skills is good to have in both arenas.  Humor, the ability to ad lib, listening to your students, and doing good research are valuable assets in both.  Flexibility and adaptability is a must.  Just like at conventions sometimes there’s no planning for what happens in a classroom.

SFFWRTCHT: Tell us about the ConQuesT Writer’s Workshop, which you’ve also run for a few years.

SES: This is the first year I haven’t run the Writer’s Workshop since its inception.  The Programming Bunny is handling it, but I plan on taking it back next year.  Actually the writer’s workshop idea began with Jeff Orth over five years ago.  It’s something I’m very proud of.  To be honest, I think the writers and editors who handle the one-on-one workshops gain from critiquing as do the participants. It’s also about passing the torch—helping those new writers who may be among future Hugo and Nebula Awards.

SFFWRTCHT: What are some highlights of the workshop? 

SES: The workshop is a one hour, one-on-one, face-to-face meeting between the participant and many of the writers who volunteer also have experience as editors.  Manuscripts are submitted by the end of April where they are then forwarded to their assigned reviewer.  The reviewers read and critique the manuscript before the convention, then they spend one hour discussing the manuscripts as well as answering any questions the participant may have.  It’s a valuable experience for anyone wanting to pursue writing professionally.

SFFWRTCHT: What does that offer for up and coming writers?

SES: Most writers I know (and that includes me) often are their own worst critics.  Many times the best part of the experience is learning what you did right as well as what you need to improve.  Sometimes writers get too close to their own work, and it helps to have a fresh set of eyes to see what they’ve missed.  It also gives up-and-coming writers a chance to ask questions of someone who’s already been through the publishing maze.  Many new writers fail to take into account the business end of writing especially in today’s publishing environment.   It also helps make connections.  Networking not only helps writers when they have questions, but it is also the place where you can find out who is buying what, so it really helps with promotion of your work.  Sometimes it’s just nice to find people who understand what you’re trying to do.

SFFWRTCHT: What are favorite memories of the Con? Favorite guests? Events? Etc. over the years.

Susan at a CoSplay event in Oklahoma

SES: A number of my favorite memories I can’t discuss in order to protect the innocent (or maybe that should be the guilty).  My favorite members are the all night dead dog party dance at the top of the HoJos downtown.  It was a circular room with windows all around, and a thunderstorm raging outside.  The lights, the music, the lightening—it was a magical evening.  Some of my favorite guests include K.W. Jeter and his wonderful wife; Connie Willis, who I’m sure thought I was stalking her at one point (it’s a long story); Howard Waldrop; the fabulous Darrell K. Sweet; Octavia Butler (one of the sweetest women you would ever want to know), and the list goes on and on.  I remember helping decorate people who passed out in the con suite (people learned really quickly not to get caught asleep) and even taping a certain famous artist to a wall with duct tape…another long story.  We’ve had parties that lasted three days, tornados, dressed all sorts of weird costumes, and instigated all kinds of silliness.  I’m so grateful to have fandom and science fiction in my life—it’s been filled with laughter and sadness, joy and heart break, and perhaps more importantly—community.  It many ways I never felt close to my real family growing up—I never felt like I really fit in anywhere—until I went to my first convention. That’s where I found my family.

SFFWRTCHT: What are some events people should look forward to at this year’s Con? Panels, etc.?

SES: ConQuesT should have something for everyone from the Story in a Bag for the writers who want a challenge to ConQuesT Idol to the Zombie Olympics.  This year we’re also featuring several cons with a con including one devoted to Klingons and another devoted to Paranormal Romance as well as the traditional RoomCon hosted by the fabulous Jimmy Hollaman. They’ll be room parties, gaming, gorgeous art to bid on as well as a Dealer’s Room where you can find books, jewelry, costumes, t-shirts, collectibles and other wares to tempt your pocketbooks.  Be sure to also check out the Charity Auction where all sorts of genre-related items will be available for bidding.  There will also be autograph sessions, panel discussions, readings, and of course, the Masquerade showcasing some of the best costumers in the field.

SFFWRTCHT: What do you see the future holding for ConQuesT? Changes? Growth? Goals?

SES: I see a lot of changes.  After all, change is necessary especially since fandom itself is changing.  ConQuesT has always been primarily known as a “literary” convention, but in the past few years we’ve been trying to embrace other aspects of the genre including anime, Steampunk, media and comic fandom among others.  I see that change becoming even larger.  I hope to not only see new attendees, but also new people willing to join in and help us make ConQuesT the best convention in the area for another 43 installments.  The only way that is going to happen is to embrace and encourage the next generation of con goers, con committee members, writers, artists, and everyone else who makes up the world of fandom of all genres.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, andThe Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the new anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.