ArmadilloCon 41 Toastmaster Speech

By Marshall Ryan Maresca
Aug 3, 2019 · 3,327 words · 13 minutes

From the author: Marshall Ryan Maresca's Toastmaster Speech for ArmadilloCon 41.


My dear friends, thank you all for being here tonight, and welcome to ArmadilloCon 41. Bienvenidos a la convención del Armadillo cuarenta y uno.  My name is Marshall Ryan Maresca, and I am deeply honored to be here as your toastmaster this weekend.  This event is a highlight of my year, every year. 

This is such an exciting time to be part of all things under the grand umbrella that we call “speculative fiction”, and to welcome new people under that umbrella. 

Because amazing things are happening under this wide umbrella: in movies, in television, and absolutely in literature, which is the thing we celebrate here most of all.  We are here, to ever so briefly, form community: as readers, as writers, as creators, as fans.  We are here to celebrate the deep loves we share, and to find new people to share with.

But also, if you’re not feeling like sharing, if you need a quiet moment of thought to yourself, to gather and reflect—or just to be alone reading that new book you got in the dealer’s room—we respect that.  The introvert in me sees the introvert in you.

Here’s the critical thing, at least to me, and I dearly hope to most of you: this is a big umbrella, and there is room underneath for everyone, and everyone deserves to be under it.

If you’ll forgive me the indulgence, but—you did make the mistake of putting me up here, microphone in hand, with only the instructions of “be charming and fill a half hour”—so I will do my best, but that will involve a fair amount of meandering and talking about Taylor Swift. 

I mean, I can’t be the only person in this room who thinks that 1989 is one of the strongest albums of the last decade, especially in a time when the concept of the album as a musical entity is slowly disintegrating.  And I’ll acknowledge that Reputation was a stumble, but the singles being dropped from Lover have already been very engaging.  And I can put “Delicate” on single repeat for an hour to get my head in the writing zone, and that’s really what I need from my pop music. I can’t be the only person in this room that does that, even though most of the people here are asking themselves, “Why is he talking about Taylor Swift at a Literary Sci-Fi/Fantasy Convention?”  

Because I want to illustrate a beautiful thing about this room, and the people in it.  Each of us is our own unique permutation of geekery and fandom and pop culture, loving a wide range of art and stories and cultural artifacts in our own deeply personal ways.  This room then becomes a mosaic of Venn Diagrams, a kaleidoscope of every one of us overlapping with each other. Those tendrils of commonality are what we hope to find here.  Some of those will be hugely popular, some will just be a special connection between two people. For example, while many of us love Star Wars, that love alone can express itself in a hundred different ways, including the people who are wrong and love Attack of the Clones

I’m kidding.  In fact, if you have a passionate, heartfelt argument about why it’s actually the best of all the Star Wars films, I want to hear it.  And if you have a passionate, heartfelt opinion on Star Trek Discovery or Avengers: Endgame or The Sixth World or toxic Twitter discourse or the state of the Hugos or why Red was a better album than 1989 – I mean, you’re wrong on that one-- but I want to hear it.  I want to hear all of it.  I want to see all those interlocking orbits of ideas and opinions that makes up each and every one of you, and I hope you all find in each other those glorious connections, and boldly share those unique things about you. 

Unless, of course, those things are racist or sexist or ableist or otherwise denigrating to the people you’re sharing this beautiful space with.  If they are, consider keeping it to yourself.  Or even better, consider re-considering them.  Consider opening your ears and listening to the voices around you

Consider how you can open doors instead of shutting gates.

But let’s talk about the people who put so much hard work into opening these doors.

First, there’s Jen Juday, the Chair of this year’s ArmadilloCon, who brought these wonderful people together and worked tirelessly the past few weeks to make sure everything went right.  Take a moment this weekend to say some kind, thankful word to her.

A.T. Campbell, III & Carol Campbelldid far, far more work on the convention than anyone could have asked for or hoped for. They both worked on the website, the program book (including the super-awesome Dining Guide!) as well as publicity. Carol also worked on t-shirts (yes, we have a t-shirt this year!). A.T. advised on programming. Both generally looked for all the details that might be falling through the cracks and brought patience and humor to the entire experience.  

Patrice Sarath and John Gibbons worked on Programming -- please take a bow. Working with all our lovely program participants is more challenging than you might suspect. If you enjoy ANY aspect of programming at this year's con, you should thank Patrice and John, along with Savannah Madle and Elle Van Hensbergen.  Patrice also contributed to the Program Book. 

Scott Zrubek is running the Art Show and Auction. We are so very lucky to have Scott driving up from the Houston area to make this happen. 

Charles Siros has worked with the hotel over many years to have things run smoothly. He also brings his wealth of work experience to wrangling audio/visual setups as needed.  

Jonathan Miles worked on the Dealers' Room, and helped make sure that committee meetings ran in an orderly fashion! 

Melissa & Ken Tolliver run the best Hospitality Suite of any con that any of us attend. People should not miss it. Some cons have a hospitality suite that consists of a few bags of cheese doodles, stale pretzels, and a scary-looking bowl of dip. We have light meals and snacks, carefully planned and refreshed throughout the weekend. It's amazing. They have a whole crew of assistants (including Zenobia, Cameron, Mac and a new guy -- Ian). 

Robert Taylor and his trusty crew at Registration make that job look easy, and it's not. Robert has been helping make this convention happen for more years than we can count. Please thank him when you see him!

Karen Meschke worked with headline guests and offered general advice, from her years of working on conventions.  

Eric Hollas worked to run the technology to manage programming, including the mobile schedule you have hopefully looked at.

And there is also the thing that, to me, is a cornerstone of the convention, the writers workshop.  This is a fantastic opportunity for up-and-coming writers, and a lot of work was done for it to go without a hitch.  Many great professional writers volunteered their time and knowledge, for which we are very grateful.  But most of the work fell on the shoulders of the Workshop Coordinator, Rebecca Schwarz.  She’s now been running the workshop for three years, and under her aegis it has grown in leaps and bounds, including adding a scholarship of sponsored seats for writers of color. But she could not do all this work alone, and her team of volunteers included: Rebecca Breidenbach, Steven Burger, Aaron DaMommio, Elizabeth Cobbe, Clayton Hackett, J. J. Litke, Elizabeth Rubio, Marcus Taylor and Vidya Gopalakrishna Travis.    

So a little bit about me, why I’m up here, and what ArmadilloCon and the writers workshop mean to me. Now, if you’ve talked to me before and made the mistake of asking, “So what do you do?”, then you’ve heard the whole pitch about how I’m a fantasy author writing four intertwined series set in the city of Maradaine, tales of murder and magic, secrets and lies, heroes and most of all hope, with nine novels out so far starting with The Thorn of Dentonhill and most recently with A Parliament of Bodies, all available in the dealers room.

I promise I won’t do that too much.

But before I wrote all that, I first came to ArmadilloCon in 2005, having found out about the writers workshop thanks to a LiveJournal post.  So I signed up, bringing the first chapter of the fantasy epic that I had been toiling away at—and by toiling away I mean “wrote eight chapters and kept fiddling with that instead of finishing the damn thing”—but I had this first chapter that was, you know, clearly brilliant.  And therefore I brought it to this workshop for ‘critique’, but actually, to be told how brilliant it truly was.  Because that was definitely what was going to happen.

Friends, that was not what happened.

Instead, it got torn to very, very, VERY tiny shreds, and in retrospect, rightly so.  But after that, I was astounded to see that what I had signed up for wasn’t JUST a one-day workshop.  There was a whole WEEKEND of panels and discussions and opportunities to learn everything I didn’t know about how to actually be a writer and HOW did I not know about this before?  Where has this been ALL MY LIFE?

Needless to say, that weekend was a course correction that put me on track to where I am now. 

Because—and this is so important—this isn’t just a place that celebrates what’s happening now in all the tremendously geeky and fannish things we love. Nor is it a place that just looks to the fascinating and problematic past of those things.  It is a place that fosters the people who will make those things tomorrow.  We do that with our writers workshop, with the multiple panels on craft and business.  We do that by filling the room with people who want to share, who want to pay it forward, who want to hold out a hand to the person behind them and say, “Hey, let’s go.”

If you are a person who ever whispered to yourself, “Maybe I could do that.  Maybe I could write that.  Maybe I could make that.  Maybe I could be that.” 

This is a place that opens its doors to you.

You are seen.

You are heard.

You are believed in.

Can I have the people who participated in the writers workshop, if you’ll indulge me—there’s a lot of indulging me here, I know—but if you could stand up? 

I want you all to take a good look at these people.  Because, I bet you, that one of them, that someone in this room, is gonna be the next big thing.   Like previous students at the workshop, one of them might become a two-time Campbell nominee.  One might win the Compton Crook.  One of them might be a complete lunatic who’ll try and write four intertwining series all set in the same city…

No, none of them are foolish enough to try that. 

But mark my words, and see their faces, because I’m certain: someone is going to dazzle you in the coming years. 

Speaking of dazzling us, can we take a moment and just be amazed by Rebecca Roanhorse?   Her writing career is just getting started—first pro publication less than two years ago.  I checked—published on August 8th, 2017.  That story won the Hugo and the Nebula, and it was also nominated for the Locus, the World Fantasy and the Sturgeon. Then her debut novel—just last year-- was nominated for the Compton Crook, the Nebula, the World Fantasy and the Hugo, and has won the Locus.  All this, and she still would have been eligible for the Campbell this year, if it wasn’t for the fact that she already won that last year. 

And why wouldn’t her work generate such accolades?  Have you read Trail of Lightning?  It’s fabulous.  If you haven’t, go over to the dealer’s room and get it.  I mean, not right now—they’re closed—but some time this weekend, please, visit the fine, lovely vendors in the dealer’s room, and get yourself a copy of Trail of Lightning.  And Storm of Locusts.  And any other books you can get your hands on, you know, since you’re there. 

Now, I think—and I did a bit of research, but I’m not certain—that no one has had an early career as strong as Rebecca, in terms of the Hugos, the Nebulas, the Campbell and so on—in the history of those awards.  But I could be wrong. 

And that’s why we need a fan historian like Dan Tolliver.  As much as I preach about looking forward to the future of the genre, it is vital to be aware of the past that brought us here.  You don’t have to like it or praise it, or hold it on a pedestal, but you should have awareness.  And it is so important to honor the people who do that boots on the ground work of maintaining that historical record.  Dan has devoted so much of his time and energy as the historian for the Fandom Association for Central Texas, the organization we have to thank for ArmadilloCon.

And he’s taken the reins several times for this event, chairing or co-chairing in ’95, ’96, 2000 and 2010.  Let’s never forget that.  We get to be here, to share this space together, because of the hard, dedicated work of fans like Dan, fans who do it largely for no reason other than the desire to bring us all together.  And more often than not, the ones who put it together spend the whole time running around, putting out the fires, keeping the trains on the rails, and rarely getting to actually enjoy the fruits of their labors. 

But this time, Dan, you’re here to be honored, so you don’t have to solve any of the problems tonight. 

But we are going to need someone to solve problems.

Now, like I said, I am not a historian of any sort, and certainly not too versed on the full history of the past forty ArmadilloCons.  But, to the best of my knowledge, this is only the second time we’ve had a Science Guest of Honor.  Though I’m hopeful it is a tradition we build on.  Because we are celebrating a genre that is about looking to the future, and as a part of that, we should also celebrate the people who are doing the work of bringing the future to us. 

And Dr. Moriba Jah is someone who’s not only looking to the future, but he is working to solve a problem most of us didn’t even realize we had.  To try to clean up and navigate the mess we’ve already made of space.  I mean, think about that.  We’ve barely stuck our toe into the waters of the heavens, and we’ve already made a mess of junk that we have to figure out how to navigate around.  

I will be honest, just reading the Wikipedia entry on Dr. Jah and his work made my head spin a little bit.  But then I checked out one of his speeches, and he broke down what he’s doing in a way that even someone like me can understand.  I’m so grateful he’s here with us to share his knowledge and his passion, and hopefully, help us navigate a clear path to the future.

Because, as I’ve said, we need to look to the future, which is why we’re so blessed to have Patrice Caldwell here with us. Few people represent that future quite as well as she does.  I’ve tried to track all the work she’s done, all the hats she’s worn.  Author, editor, agent. Fundraiser, advocate. I got tired just reading about what she does.  But her energy, her passion… that’s exactly what’s going to bring the future of this industry to us.  She’s founded People in Color Publishing, a grassroots organization dedicated to supporting, empowering, and uplifting racially and ethnically marginalized members of the book publishing industry.  She’s put together a powerhouse anthology, A Phoenix First Must Burn—and that title alone should make you want to immediately put it on your To Be Read list.  Not at the dealer’s room, but go get your pre-order on, my friends. 

The stories she’s writing, the stories she’s curating, the important work she’s doing every day, lifting up voices that need amplifying-- that’s what’s going to save us. 

Because stories are the thing that hold us together, that help us find each other, that let us look into into the hearts and souls of the stranger next to us and find that connection we didn’t know we shared.  Find those embers of empathy and kindness that we stoke into raging fires of love and community, shedding light to lead us to each other.

That is the great work that the writers here are doing.

There’s a question that writers get asked all the time, and it’s one we usually have some sort of canned answer for.  It’s a question so fundamental to digging at the roots of any artist, Jimmy Rabbit used it as his opener for musicians auditioning for his band in The Commitments.  “Who are your influences?”  But the question we do not get asked, which is just as important, is, “Who are your heroes?”  Because for me, the answer to that question is Martha Wells

The publishing industry is one that, quite frankly, will grind you up and spit you out.  And Martha has spent the last twenty-five years—if you’ll pardon the metaphor—refusing to be spit out.  We’ve had the privilege to have her be a part of this convention many, many times, including as the Guest of Honor in 2002. And to bring it back to my own experience here, she was one of the instructors at the writers workshop the first year I attended, and the year after that, almost all the years that followed.  She’s paid forward to this community again, and again.  I’ve personally had the privilege to share several panel discussions with her, on a wide range of topics of both business and craft, and every time I’ve walked out a little wiser thanks to her presence.  And I’ve been thrilled in the past few years to see her Murderbot Diaries—available in the dealer’s room—get accolade after accolade, because her talent, her intelligence and her generosity have shown us how very deserving she has always been.

We’re living in a world that is constantly moving and changing, and the best thing we can do is hold on and change with it.  That can be hard work. And we have to be prepared for the fact that it may change faster than we are ready for it to.  We have to be able to accept that some of the great masters of yesterday might have become the forgotten trivia of today.  Just as we have to accept that the fresh new genius of today, might become the problematic favorites of tomorrow.  And that the voices of tomorrow have their eyes on us here and now. 

So let’s strive to be the best versions of ourselves we can be, pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones, while respecting the boundaries of those around us.  Let’s strive to be an event that everyone is talking about on Twitter, and not, you know, an event that everyone is talking about on Twitter.

And I’ll close with a quote from, in my opinion, the premiere cyberpunk poet of our day, Nebula- and Hugo-nominated Janelle Monae.  “Even if it makes others uncomfortable, I will love who I am.”  I love everyone in this room, and I want you to love who you are, even if it makes others uncomfortable. 

Because here, you are seen.

You are heard.

You are believed in.

Thank you, good night.




Marshall Ryan Maresca

Marshall Ryan Maresca is writing high-energy fantasy novels of magic, mayhem and misfits.