Monday, October 22, 2007

Shedding the scales of writer's rust

Mood: anticipatory

Listening to: Gjallarhorn

Finished my preparations for World Fantasy in a couple of weeks. I'm looking forward to it. Haven't been to a con in over a year. Then it's Nanowrimo and OryCon for the rest of November. The rust is thick from not writing much in the last couple of months. Next month should help me take it all off in huge flaking chunks.

Speaking of chunks, I'm in the midst of Jay Lake's Trial of Flowers. It's an interesting, ornate, fabulously grotesque novel, and though I can't say I much like the protagonists, I'm interested enough in the world and the gritty Victorian carnival atmosphere Jay brings to the world that I'm in it to the end. I've been drawn in flinching. On a line-by-line basis, I'm absolutely digging the writing. Always a prodigy for as long as I've known him, Jay has really matured into an extraordinary craftsman. I picked up a copy of his next novel, Mainspring, and I look forward to delving into that after I'm done with Flowers.

One of the things I've discovered this summer is how easy it is to fall out of the habit of taking care of oneself, including writing and writing-supportive activities. I'm someone who processes stress via physical activity, and I fell into a headspace where I tried to write at the cost of not running or lifting. In the end, the failure to nurture my physical needs boomeranged back to undermine my focus on writing. With the sale of Tesseraction (more on that later, but it's the videogame company some friends and I started in 2001), I've had a lot of other items occupying my attention.

Last week I dug into the Fast FIction exercises and reviewed the stories waiting in my folder for either trunk or polish. Wrote a new story dubbed "Ponies" at about a thousand words for Tiffany's middle school storytelling festival and read it to five groups of middle schoolers. That was a ton of fun. The kids loved the creepy spin I included, and I always enjoy reading performances.

This Wednesday evening I'll be at the UO Bookstore for a WotF booksigning, my first in nearly a year. Time does fly, oh my. I'm with this year's Wordos winners, Damon Kaswell and John Burridge. Next week the Wordos holds its annual Halloween reading. I may use the "Ponies" story from the middle school festival, but I need to trim it a bit first.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Green choices, green voices

Mood: alert

Listening to: Brett Dennen

I've just come off a weekend spent staining this woodshed we built on the property this summer. We used an oil-based stain from a leading manufacturer, and it proved a nasty experience. Despite wearing a filter mask and wearing gloves and a long-sleeved shirt, I spent most of Sunday inhaling chemical fumes and wiping brown gunk off my skin. Painting with this stuff was like painting with water. To get enough on your brush, you pretty much can't avoid trailing drops behind you, and if you have to reach over shoulder height, it runs up your brush handle and into your sleeve.

The can offered the usual dyspeptic fine print text of instructions and warnings, with a curt mention that this stuff is carcinogenic in mice. Imagine how much fun it was to gash my scalp on the protruding corner of a roof beam I'd just painted.

I got to thinking: why the hell are we using this stuff in the first place? Surely nowadays we can find something less toxic. We don't have to use petroleum products for our home, and we shouldn't, if we can help it, use stuff we don't want to breathe or get on our skin. Or more properly, stuff that makes us nervous, stuff we know isn't a great idea for the environment. Stuff we wouldn't want in our water.

Those thoughts moved me to consider how common it is for us to fill our lives with harmful chemicals and take it for granted, even when, as in our case, we're trying to make more sustainable choices in our purchases and our energy footprint. I accept that as part of a highly networked industrial society, we, as citizens and consumers, cannot wholly avoid toxic products. Most of us use gasoline, for instance, or ethanol, which does not come from a clean manufacturing process (it burns coal). We use tools made in factories with material from steel foundaries, plastics manufacturers, numerous other sources. Economies of scale and the ubiquitous use of toxins in the production cycle mean nobody escapes exposure. It's naive to think anyone can entirely escape the use of toxic materials without being so far off the grid that you're knapping your own tools.

Still, we're in a great time for going green. Green products are still more expensive, but as the business sector continues to wake up to the potential of clean, sustainable practices, choices will continue to expand for people who want to minimize the negative impact on our water, air, soil, and bodies.

Within minutes, we were able to find a product on the web that met all our criteria for safety and performance. Sure, we'll pay more. I'm aware that the price points for green products are often higher at this stage. We're fortunate enough to be able to afford it. It's a shame that you have to pay more for goods that are good for you--compare the price of most junk food versus that of organic or low-fat food. I think people have to try to make the best choices they can afford, whether picking to go green on, working something organic into their diets, buying the water-based product instead of the oil-based one, choosing paper bags over plastic, or getting a crank-charged flashlight instead of one with the fist-sized battery. More than that, being a green consumer means cultivating an awareness of the impact of one's purchasing choices. And the impact of one's use choices.

I remember when I started my third year in law school. A group of us went out to 6th Street Grill for a late night nosh and beer. A first-year woman, a 1L in the law school parlance, glibly bragged that she changed the oil in her car herself and just poured the used oil into the gutter. I jolted as though I'd received an electric shock.

"What do you mean you poured it down the gutter?" I asked. "Don't you know how bad that is for the water?"

"But it's just a quart or two of oil," she replied, taken aback. "That's not much. It doesn't matter."

"No way. It's still bad for the environment, even in small amounts, and when thousands of people do the same, it adds up. You want this stuff in your water?" I was incredulous that she seemed so ignorant of the notion of aggregation, but what she said next blew my mind.

"So what? Even if we all die, Earth will continue. Life will continue in some form."

"Are you kidding? You're saying it's OK for us to poison ourselves because a million years from now cockroaches are still around?"

She repeated, "Earth will continue--"

"By that logic," I cut in, "it doesn't matter if someone breaks our necks right here, right? Because ten years from now there will still be people on the earth."

"Or cockroaches," added a friend next to me.

"Or cockroaches," I said, with a smile I didn't feel.

Thinking over this conversation fourteen years later, I'm struck by how much this young woman simply didn't want to believe her choices of convenience had any consequences. Toxins just go out into the world and nature handles it. Cancer just happens. It's somebody else's problem. Who cares, because in geologic time, the discreet event of someone dumping used engine oil in the street is a micro-blip. That model of thinking reduces basically everything to meaninglessness, which means any action can be justified, any choice is defensible with a shrug and a roll of the eyes.

In some ways, there's a parallel between this disconnect from the awareness of accumulated choices at the aggregate level and the claim of certain dispirited citizens that it's pointless to vote because "my vote is too small and doesn't matter."

Oddly enough, I suspect this view has permeated American consumer culture for a long time. The moral of the story is: vote with your dollar. Educate yourself about consequences. Realize that individual choices matter, in the home, in the community, the nation, and the global marketplace. They add up to a voice.

Monday, October 8, 2007

The Writer Neurotic

Another archival post, the single one from my seldom-used LJ account, moved here for consolidation purposes.

May 17, 2007:

Current Mood: calm

It's a sunny day outside, the sky is blue, my daughters are young enough to want to play with Daddy all the time. Yet I reckon my days more by whether I've written my daily word quota or not. Don't get me wrong, I love my girls more than anything, and I make myself available to them every day and engage in the usual run of parental worry about whether I'm doing right by them. One of the cool things about being where I am in my life right now is that I have lots of time for the family.


Word count is always on my mind. I'm aware of unfinished stories and projects in the back of my mind like a brain canker.

A friend of mine back in my college days gave up her aspirations to become a writer because she'd gone to a con and heard Roger Zelazny speak on what it took to be a writer. In short, he said it took a *need* to write. If you weren't driven to write, if you weren't satisfied if you weren't writing, you probably would have a difficult time making it as a writer.

I spent most of the eighties writing limp-wristed laments about wanting to write, and not actually working on stories. Lesson learned is how to find the kind of discipline to write every day. My goal now is modest: 1,500 words per day four days a week. Then branch out from there. The idea is to get to six days a week. This is a floor.

I have a few other goals involving putting stories in the mail, drafting chapters on my novel, etc. But the baseline goal is 1,500 words a day four days a week. It takes twenty-one days to build a habit, according to the behavioral psychologists. For much of the last year, building structured writing habits has been like flogging a donkey. The challenge is to make it into a consistent practice. Like training for the marathons I've run.

Get that word count in. Then go read with the girls, run, socialize, do the day job, whatever.

But in the meantime, I need to feed this inner word count meter in order to be functional in the other areas of my life. Every day that goes by without writing turns into a little whisper in the back of your head: "You so suck."

New site imminent

Working on the final changes to my website update at I hadn't updated for the last year, what with one thing or the next. Chalk it up to inexperience as a first-time blogger. Still, it's kinda embarrassing to have let it go stale.

The main goal of this redesign is to reduce to a simpler format that takes less effort to maintain. My (at this time current) incarnation of the site has in essence three blogs to keep up: News, Blog, and the fiction one I called Snippetry & Grue (a title I may use elsewhere). Keeping all three current proved wholly optimistic. The goal now is to contain and focus the amount of participation required to keep things fresh.

I chose Blogger because it came without ads for no cost. Depending on how it goes, I may take the liberty of transferring it elsewhere in the future, but for now, it has a copacetic design and feature set, easily convenient, sans ads. Fine by me, and I'm thankful.

I anticipate I'll have my new site design up today or tomorrow. Whew.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Consider this an archival post, recapping my Writers of the Future and World Con 2006 posts.

Book signings
Monday, October 16, 2006

I had my first book signing last weekend, a three hour stint at B. Dalton’s in Springfield at the Gateway Mall. I wasn’t alone; the redoubtable Nina Kiriki Hoffman was present along with Kate Elliott, the author of the epic fantasy series “The Crown of Stars.” We had a great time, just chatting and signing books for passersby. We sold about five copies of the anthology, maybe the same number of books for Nina and Kate. Nina had her new novels Catalyst and Spirits That Walk in Shadow, and a ton of colored pens to sign with. She makes a rainbow production of her signings, which was cool. I bought a copy of her hardback (Spirits) and she used about a billion colors when she put her moniker on it. Also bought a copy of Kate’s book King’s Dragon, the first book in her series.

Very cool. Turns out Kate is a close friend of Katherine Kerr, whom I admire for her Westlands and Deverry novels. Kerr is one of the few writers who used elves and dwarves without copying Tolkien. In addition, she does a fantastic job establishing a “hard” Celtic culture. The first book in her series is Daggerspell. Highly recommended, excellent stuff. Kate said Kerr is one of the only people who can portray a chieftain-based culture realistically. Amen to that.

The signing was fun. A few people chatted about the contest, and I encouraged them to join. We had the obligatory young fellow who talked about writing as though it were “getting a book published when he has the time.” I don’t know what it is about writing that makes everyone think he or she can do it. Sort of like the folks who have a great idea and want you to write it for them, but they get half or more of the credit. They’ve clearly never written seriously. It’s like me saying, “Yeah, I’d like to build a house. As soon as I get around to it, I just knock one out.” Or “I have this great idea for a house. Mr. Carpenter, you build it, and we’ll split the proceeds fifty-fifty.”

So I have a couple more signings scheduled this week, one in Corvallis, one in Roseburg. Should be fun, provided I can find child care for the girls for the Roseburg trip. Turns out that’s my wife’s weekend to be in her Master’s degree class. I used to practice criminal defense in Roseburg. Returning there as a writer will be an interesting experience.

Routines of the Living Writer
Monday, October 2, 2006

It’s a truism that when you’re a writer, one of the hardest things is the writing itself. I used to shake my head when I heard one of my pro writer friends say he or she had a tough time sitting down to write. Now that my days are full of “nothing but writing,” I’m encountering the same challenge. Without dipping into the details, I’ll just say working from home has proven incredibly difficult. When you have an entire day to write, the urgency drops. Whereas before I’d have to make progress in my two hours or so we’d worked so hard to break loose, now I have six to eight hours to lose myself in procrastination.

It is hard to work when the phone rings from time to time with the some solicitation or other, when the dishes piled up in the sink beckon for someone to do them, when you hear the sound of a mower in the neighbor’s yard and think about how much your lawn needs mowing, and for that matter, how much the deck needs refinishing and the gutters cleared, and that bit on the front porch that’s fallen to dry rot needs repair.... The list goes on. I’m still working on finding an office in which to work. Something small, like a hermitage.

I think my solution lies in creating solid yet simple routines and sticking to them. Nothing elaborate; lay out my time in blocs that form a coherent schedule focused on novel production. Then use most of my time for writing.

I’m also considering posting my progress to the website as a form of ersatz accountability. Nothing like holding yourself up to your peers and public to jump-start the motivation.

Radio interview!
Saturday, September 23, 2006

Welp, just got done with my radio interview.  Don't think I hit the exact points John Goodwin recommended, but I did manage to plug the book and its content without coming off as more of a lunkhead than I usually am. Got to plug my other stories, which was cool. Stressed that the contest is indeed a door opener.

Poor John was on the phone with me yesterday while I was driving down the hill with houseplants I was taking to my wife’s classroom spilling dirt and water all over the dashboard and DVD player of the minivan (long story - suffice to say I was distracted while loading the car). I got off the phone with him so I could get to my destination without ramming a parked car, then handle the plant unloading and basic clean up. Called my wife and my phone ran out of juice, so I never managed to call John back.

Based on John’s sensible tips, I took the time this morning to prep some notes with an elevator speech summary of my story and a few other reminders. I’ve done enough public speaking to be mostly immune from stage fright, but I didn’t want to ramble all over the map, either.

The podcast interview will be available for download Monday, Sept. 25, from I believe it’s the Cover to Cover show, Dragon Tales. The hosts, Michael and Summer, were great. It was fun; I felt very comfortable and hope I can take off to earn another interview. Based on the other guests they’ve had on the site, I’m honored to have had my seven minutes. VERY cool.

Lessons learned for radio:
- Do make notes for these interviews, if only to organize your thoughts and provide a security blanket in case you forget your name or native tongue.

- Minimize distractions.  I'm a pacer, so I made sure I was somewhere I could walk around.

- Write down the names of the hosts.

- They don't want to tread on you, so when I stopped talking, there was silence for a heartbeat or two while they made sure I was finished.  That silence sorta yawns, and I jumped into it a couple of times and carried on probably longer than necessary for the question.  I recommend thinking of a standard cue to let them know you're done with the question: "Does that answer your question?"  "My mouth is stopping now."  "Beeeep!  Answer complete."  "My dark master bids me cease my prattling."  Whatever works for you.

- Don't talk too fast.

- Remember to thank them for letting you on the show.

- Don't tilt with hangovers.  I was a Wordos party last night and had that one glass of wine too many that starts your next morning with your forebrain squashed up against the inside of your skull.  Not really a hangover, just played one on TV.  By the time the interview rolled around, I was fine, but still.  Time your debauchery sensibly.

A New Level of Critique
Tuesday, September 12, 2006

When I delivered the Hugo to Kate Wilhelm last week, she surprised me by inviting me to join her monthly critique group, which includes stellar talents such as, well, herself, and Nina Kiriki Hoffmann, Leslie What, and many others from the Clarion years. Quite an honor. The next meeting was this last weekend, as it turned out, so to be in good form, I submitted a redraft of my 24-hour story from the WotF workshop, renamed “Arete” from “Ten Thousand Leagues.”

The group shredded it, naturally. I mean shredded as in through a wood chipper first and then a shredder. And I emerged bloodied but stoked. The Wordos is fantastic. Don’t get me wrong. Kate’s group follows the same rules, except that no one needs follow a time limit for his or her crit. I noticed a substantial elevation to the quality of the discourse, notably in comments about what I need to fix in my style. Bottom line for me is, I have a lot of work to do on that story. Will I have another shredding candidate for next month’s meeting?

You bet.

Website imminent
Monday, September 4, 2006

The website is up at .mac! Cool, but not where I ultimately want it, though it’s so darn easy I may have to use as a simple gateway.

I’m happy with how the site turned out. The design is simple, nothing too complex, though the use of a non-standard font like First Order as a banner made implementation tricky. I still have to create banners in the proper font for the page headings past the Welcome page, but overall, I’m very happy with how it all turned out. Not bad for a debut website.

On another note, I was fortunate enough to ask Nate Taylor, my talented WotF illustrator, for advice on my banners, and he suggested sending them to him so he could work his PhotoShop magic. He turned them around in about an hour and a half! Wow. Very cool indeed. I’m under no illusions about the simplicity of the work for someone with the graphical chops and proper software, but after messing with AppleWorks for a bit and a half, I’m jazzed at having them done and done right. I’ve resized them down a bit to help with apparent resolution, and they look great.

Finally, apropos of nothing with the site, the news has come out that Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, died following getting stung in the heart by a stingray. Ironic. Tiffany and I are in shock. I’d read the story earlier this evening on Salon, but it didn’t register until later, when I realized it was the Croc Hunter himself. He’ll be missed.

Writers of the Future postscript
Wednesday, August 30, 2006

My article for the Writers of the Future website turned out alright. You can check it out here. The tone of the piece is a bit on the jaunty side, but it expresses fairly well what the week was like on one level. There’s a whole other level I allude to but don’t go into in depth: the sense of crossing a line into professional fiction writing.

As I look back on it, I think the message they really worked hardest to drum into us--“they” being the Galaxy Press staff and other pro writers there--was that we winners have proved we can cut it on the professional level. John Goodwin, President of Galaxy Press, underlined that we need to be clear about this accomplishment and not hold onto false modesty or self-effacing behavior. Modesty itself is well and good, in the sense of not coming off as an asshat, but in the end, it’s more of a Victorian virtue. If we’d derived more of our social values from Ancient Greece or Saxon/Nordic clans, we’d be expected to brag like the dickens about our deeds. I’m no Beowulf or Odysseus, but as someone who tends to downplay his accomplishments, I take John’s point well.

Another incredible aspect to the week was the simple, friendly association with talent like Powers and K.D. Wentworth, Sean Williams, Robert Sawyer (whose four part story “Rollback” starts in the current Analog, highly recommended), and Jerry Pournelle. Jerry was absolutely hilarious at the award ceremony, for what it’s worth. He killed with this dry, caustic, say anything sense of humor that showed a heart of gold beneath that curmudgeon’s exterior. I was impressed as hell with him, to be honest. He introduced me at the award ceremony and told me as I came up that he thought my story was a good one and that he thought he’d voted for it. Diana had the same experience when she went up. Whether or not he was buffering us from disappointment, since he obviously already knew Brandon had taken the Gold, it was kind of him to offer that reassurance, and I’ll always be grateful for the gesture.

I came out of the week feeling as though I’d made some new friends, so that this week, when I picked up On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers, and The Resurrection Man by Sean Williams, I’m not just reading books by two skilled storytellers. I’m reading the work of two friends. What an amazing change. And after World Con, I feel as though I’m connected to a giant extended family.

The other winners and I--I’m referring to our group as ”the Cadre” as a handy placeholder--are staying in touch via a mailing list put together by the redoubtable and beautiful Judith Tabron, author of “Broken Stones” in the Vol. XXII anthology. So far it’s been relatively quiet compared to, say, the Wordos list, but it’s also been fun to keep up. I’m looking forward to a reunion at World Fantasy in November. I’ve set up a .mac group, and will test on myself to see if it works. If it does, that might be the easiest way to keep in touch.

“My” First Hugo and How It Went
Sunday, August 27, 2006

I’m back in Eugene after two weeks on the road, coming down from the surreal nature of the trip to Writers of the Future and World Con. As I write this, the 2006 LA Con Hugo sits on the table before me, a sleek chrome rocket mounted on an art deco base of indigo enameled wood and brushed aluminum. It’s not mine, of course. It belongs to Kate Wilhelm for winning the category of “Best Related Book.” But I got to accept it, and therein lies a story.

A couple of weeks before my departure, Nina Kiriki Hoffmann contacted me to say Kate Wilhelm was up for a Hugo, and since I was going to World Con, would I be willing to accept for her?

“Of course,” I said, despite being pig-ignorant of what such acceptance entailed. I knew the Hugo was a big deal, but for some reason, I envisioned my role simply as fetching it home for Kate. Nina got back with me to say she’d asked Kate about a speech, but Kate said it wasn’t necessary and just to say thank you.


I’d bring a suit, naturally. Ignorant I was, but I wasn’t a complete barbarian. Besides, I like getting dressed up.

So last night I turned down a dinner invitation from some very nice people--the Fictionados, a writers’ group based in LA, because I had to be sitting in the audience in case Kate won--and trotted up to my room to shave and throw on the tux I’d just worn a week earlier at the WotF award ceremony. Alan Roberts and Jay Lake both recommended the tux over the suit.

I arrived at the Hugo ceremony in the Convention Center’s Arena, a large circular room, and saw the place was packed. Two large plasma screens flanked the stage. The lights were down and Connie Willis was the emcee. The show had started.

Oh my, I thought, feeling the first stirring of nerves in my stomach. This doesn’t seem a casual affair at all.

So I made my way uneasily past rows of people in t-shirts and shorts and flip-flops, feeling ridiculously overdressed. I took a seat and watched the show. Connie Willis, for those of you who may not know, is damned funny. They awarded a couple of fan prizes, and the recipients made speeches. Only when a proxy came up and said a few words on behalf of the actual winner did I really begin to sweat.

I was going to have to make a speech on behalf of Kate, and I’d never met her, never gone to Clarion, and (shame) had never read any of her work. Obviously I had no time for research, and for that matter, did anyone organizing this know I was here? Should I be backstage? Did they have an alternative plan? The well of my ignorance was deep and getting deeper. “Blake, thy name is cretin,” I told myself.

Possibly someone other than Kate would win, but I didn’t dwell on that thought, because her winning or losing should have nothing to do with my convenience. I had to proceed as though she was a certain winner.

So I got up, found one of the ushers, and explained my situation. She was able to get me to one of the reserved seats behind the main bloc of seats where the nominees and guests of honor sat. I had plenty of time to think about what I was going to say. The trick was to be inconspicuous without being perfunctory. I didn’t want to talk about myself because it was Kate’s moment. I didn’t want to try humor for the same reason. What I said and did wouldn’t really reflect on her, but I decided to act as if it did. It sure as heck would reflect on me.

I planned on introducing myself, saying a few words about how I didn’t know Connie, but by gosh, I would now. Then--you see? I did it again just now. I was mixing up Connie Willis with Kate Wilhelm. The initials sound the same, and my fatigue-raddled brain was clearly taking the wrong track. So I ran through a little mental drill then: Kate Wilhelm. Kate Wilhelm. Kate Wilhelm.

When the presenter listed the nominees, the plasma screens flashed a picture of the nominee and the cover of the nominated work. The audience applauded, and the volume of this applause would provide a pretty decent idea of who was going to win. Kate’s slide evoked the most applause, so I steeled myself, concentrating on three things: getting my name right, then her name right, and finally, not making an idiot out of myself.

Sure enough, she won, and I found myself rising and walking to the very well illuminated stage, where Bob Eggleton waited with the award. The lights were so bright I couldn’t see much more than a haze of faces, but there must have been a couple of thousand people out there. I made my remarks extemporaneously, not screwing up and sounding (to myself) reasonably calm and collected. I opened with a small quip about not being told I’d need to make a speech, confessed my non-relationship with Kate, and commented on how all the Clarion veterans I’d met were talented, dedicated people for whom Kate’s teaching made a substantial difference. I concluded by saying I now had a wonderful opportunity to meet Kate myself, and I thanked the audience for the honor of being able to accept on Kate’s behalf. Then I got the heck off the stage.

Backstage I had a cup of ice water, which felt good. Then I lugged the Hugo back to my seat and watched the rest of the show. For the rest of my life, if I remember two things about the 2006 Hugo ceremonies, it’ll be my acceptance of Kate’s award, and Harlan Ellison’s appearance.

Harlan was outrageous. Funny, passionate, quick-witted, and totally without an active internal censor. I laughed my tailfins off. I don’t think I can do it justice relating it here without using language I’m not yet sure I want to use on my blog. Let’s just say he was brilliant, genuinely funny, and that he clearly, clearly doesn’t give two cents what anyone thinks. It was also clear how much love the audience had for him. I now fully understand what Jerry Pournelle meant when he said, “Maybe Harlan can get away with this sort of behavior, but it’s sure no one else can.” Connie had said she threatened Harlan with duct tape and a hammer, and in fact, she had those things on the podium when Harlan appeared. When she asked Harlan whether he’d be good, he responded, “Nope,” then “Nope,” and finally leaned over and took the bulb of the mike in his mouth.

Enough said.

After the ceremonies were over, the photogs wanted their share of fresh meat, namely tons of photos of the winners. Feeling a little foolish, I went up and asked if they really wanted Kate’s stand-in up there with the genuine winners like David Levine and John Scalzi. They did, so I found myself on stage, just as with WotF, grinning and holding a giant trophy. In fact, I stood next to Morena Baccarin, who played Inara in Serenity, which had won the Hugo in the best movie/TV episode category. A couple of us remarked how much we liked Firefly and the movie, and she graciously thanked us, but it wasn’t a fanboy moment. Nevertheless I have never been so grateful for having a tuxedo and looking my best. We stood for a ton of pictures, and there in the front row I spotted Alan Roberts of the Wordos perched on a chair, snapping away.

Several people mentioned the big VIP party being held afterwards. Again, I let them know I was just the proxy and would be OK with not attending, but the response was uniformly, “Son, with that rocket on your arm, you have a ticket to anywhere you like tonight. It opens all doors.” So okay, then.

i went to the party in the presidential suite at the top of the Marriott, mingled, accepted congratulations (I gave up correcting people after the seventh or eighth instance), had a couple of very nice conversations with a bedazzled and ebullient David Levine, who’d won for short story (I’ll post the winners at the bottom of the entry). Aside from the general VIP-ness, the party was notable because the caterers provided a decent sushi tray, and I hadn’t had dinner yet. The World Con organizer for next year’s con in Japan was in attendance, a digified fellow in a formal kimono, and they had a traditional saki cask available, which David Levine opened, tapping the lid with a wooden mallet until it cracked open. We drank with little wooden boxes, evidently also according to tradition.

Finally, I had yet another delightful conversation with Tim Powers, and we laughed at the irony of my being on stage in a tux only a week after the WotF ended with the admonition--from Powers himself--that we’d never get this kind of attention again, most like. He’s truly a very nice man.

After I left the party, I cruised the hallways of the Hilton, dropped in on the BWB party and a few others. I carried the Hugo with me, very carefully, because I felt if I returned to my hotel room, I’d be done for the night. It was fun. People genuflected in the halls. Pretty girls came up and asked if they could “touch my rocket.” You just can’t get straight lines like that in the mundane world. Several people asked if they could touch the award or hold it. I assented, and they held it reverently. One elderly gentleman came close to tears. All the people I met commented they’d never seen one up close before and thanked me for bring it around. It’s not exaggerating to say I came to feel like an ambassador of sorts, a bearer of a holy relic. Suffice to say Kate’s award has been infused with the laying on of grateful energy from fans who asked me to give Kate their love.

The BWB party, put on by fans of George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and FIre series, was an amazing production, and wins my award for most organized party. The Tor and WotF events were also stellar, but this fan-created celebration had an energy and enthusiasm that existed purely for its own joy. Highgarden, Stark, and Dornish banners lined the walls, along with prints of artwork from the collectible card game. One room was done up with veils and flowers, whereas another was the “Dornish makeout room” with pillows strewn everywhere under soft red light. And as I’ve mentioned earlier, the alcohol was very much in abundance, although the standard loadout was less explosive than the custom-made witch’s brew Julie had handed me Friday night.

So I’m back and recovering. I have yet to gather my thoughts on the Writers of the Future week, other than to say it was both amazingly fun and life-changing. I’ll post more when I get my brain fires under control.


Best Novel
Spin by Robert Charles Wilson (Tor)

Best Novella
"Inside Job" by Connie Willis (Asimov's January 2005)

Best Novelette
"Two Hearts" by Peter S. Beagle (F&SF October/November 2005)

Best Short Story
"Tk'tk'tk" by David D. Levine (Asimov's March 2005)

Best Related Book
Storyteller: Writing Lessons and More from 27 Years of the Clarion Writers' Workshop by Kate Wilhelm (Small Beer Press) (RECEIVED by Blake)

Best Dramatic Presentation
Serenity Written & Directed by Joss Whedon. (Universal Pictures/Mutant Enemy, Inc.)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
Doctor Who "The Empty Child" & "The Doctor Dances" Written by Steven Moffat.
Directed, James Hawes. (BBC Wales/BBC1)

Best Professional Editor
David G. Hartwell

Best Professional Artist
Donato Giancola

Best Semiprozine
Ansible, edited by Dave Langford

Best Fanzine
Plokta edited by Alison Scott, Steve Davies & Mike Scott

Best Fan Writer
Dave Langford

Best Fan Artist
Frank Wu

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer
Sponsored by Dell Magazines
John Scalzi (1st year of eligibility)

World Con, Day 4
Saturday, August 26, 2006
Stayed up late at a number of parties. At the Writers of the Future Ice Cream Social, I spoke with a very nice lady who’s a finalist in the last quarter of the Writers of the Future (like Damon Kaswell). Her name was Kim, and she’s a doctor from Georgia. Her WotF piece is an SF piece on neural harvesting. We had a great discussion about “hard” fantasy, which I was at a loss to describe clearly. Kim said it sounded as though I was describing good fantasy. We went on to talk about politics, and to our shared delight, we’re both strongly pro-choice and progressive.

I also attended the Brotherhood Without Banners party by the George R.R. Martin fan crowd, where my friend Julie mixed me a vodka tonic that one might fairly describe as VODKA tonic. I nursed it carefully, to be sure, not wanting to wake up with a hangover in a shopping cart in Burbank. Wrapped things up at the Tor party, where I ran into fellow Wordo Ken Brady and his girlfriend Yuki. Met Cory Doctorow. He was very nice.

Had coffee with Ken and Yuki this morning, a quick run out to Diedrich’s near Chapman U. Nice to get a decent espresso for a reasonable (for So. Cal.) price.

Today I’m embarking on another sweep through a number of panels:

● “Realistic” Fantasy: How do you do it?
● Are There Too Many Cats in F/SF? (Yeah, I’m a cat person.)
● Military Tactics in Fiction
● The Future of Cities
● “Hard” Fantasy: What is it? (Very excited about this one)
● Death of the Book (if I’m still energetic enough)

Realistic Fantasy: Jim Gurney of “Dinotopia,” the ever-droll gentleman Tim Powers, Robin Wayne Bailey, Ellen Klages, David Keck.

Cornerstone advice for realistic fantasy: get the real world details right. Get the setting right. Swords get knicked and bend in combat, horseback riding makes you sore, etc. Decide if you’re going to go with lice, fleas, etc. That’s with medieval fantasy. When you’re in the real, modern world, you still need to get it right. Make up the magic element, but it still needs grounding in the real world.

Tim Powers says to include real world details like 7-Eleven matchbooks and black Casio watches so that the reader gets a sense of the real world before you change the rules and add the fantastical element. Do your research so you really know how to present the setting. Robin, for example, has done a lot of riding, but not bareback, so he had to go find a stable and check it out. Powers says he always draws up floor plans for his scenes. Keck says if readers get the idea that the setting is backdrop, you’re dead.

Powers says he thinks fantasy offers something SF doesn’t: a numinous quality, creepy and seductive, even dreamlike.... “He’s not a tame lion.” A part of our brain really wants faeries to exist, etc. That’s what’s lost if magic becomes technology.

Don’t make magic too quantitative or it becomes technology and loses the mystery. IOW, get your rules of magic down, but don’t make them mathematically exhaustive.

Ellen asked whether the writers use props when writing. She likes to fetch some pertinent object and look at it to ground herself in its physicality. Interesting technique.

Other bits of advice: Don’t drop the physics even if you have impossible things happening, like invisible people. Know your medieval medicine. Don’t ignore small magics and their potential for cool stories. Keck pointed out the case of a room where the floor had horse skulls nailed under the floor.

Too Many Cats?: A fun geeky panel full of cat people, including Connie Willis. Rather nice handout listing cat stories in F & SF, with a couple of example excerpts. Moderator started the discussion by asking about favorite cat stories growing up, citing The Cat in the Hat and Bagheera from The Jungle Book. The Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. The Siamese from The Incredible Journey. Oy. Mike reverb from one speaker was terrible. Interference from his wheelchair? Don’t know if I can handle that much longer.

Base questions: Why don’t we have more dogs in fiction? What makes a cat a good character? Panelists cited cat independence and mystique, the bit of alien attitude they bring, their secret lives, hint of mystery from associations with Egyptian gods and medieval witches, their grace and beauty, and their loner status. Cats are very rarely tragic figures in books, very rarely killed off. During the Blitz, the authorities had to issue warnings to people not to go back into their houses to fetch their cats, that cats could take perfectly good care of themselves. A number of people were killed trying to retrieve their cats when the cats were already safe in the Anderson shelter.

A comparison was made to Arthur, Guenevere, and Lancelot--Lancelot was catting around, breaking up a marriage, whereas Arthur displayed all the qualities of a dog: loyalty, unconditional love, etc.

Who does good cat? CJ Cherryh, Fritz Leiber, the author of The Wild Roads. Diane Duane, of The Book of Night with Moon. She’s finishing the series with a book called The Big Meow. Panel ended with something of a wallow of sentimentality. Connie Willis went on a little tirade about how the musical “Cats” almost ruined cat fiction for her. To each her own, but I really don’t get the hostility toward the play. A vibe of “defend the dogs” came up as well, which I found irrelevant. The panel topic wasn’t at the expense of dogs.

Military Tactics: All male panel. Lots of good information. Wil McCarthy, John Maddox Roberts, Jerry Pournelle, Glen Cook, Ed Green. Surprisingly packed audience. The most basic question was how an author arrives at the tactics he writes about.

Compared spaceships to submarines in terms of warfare. Used WW 2 tactics accordingly.

McCarthy says it’s a combination of analogy and imagination if you don’t have actual military experience. He tends to think of things in technological terms, intimately related to equipment and the environment they’re in. Tactics extrapolate naturally from those factors with the conditions and objectives facing your characters.

Pournelle describes tactics as an entirely different sphere of activity from operations and strategy. Tactics is about how you get your men to fight. Many officers are shot by their own men. You don’t own your objective until a trooper with a rifle can stand on it. Why do men fight? Motivations of men are key to stories about military action. “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” See Gordon R. Dickson for someone who ignored this last bit. Jerry says his Dorsai wunderkind would be shot by his own men in the first half hour of their service.

How does SF get tactics wrong, and how can we fix those mistakes? McCarthy talks about how lasers are portrayed as a weapon of sheer destruction, destroying everything it touches. Lasers heat up their targets, and they can be diffused pretty readily. Entire battle in space has to do with heat management. You put heat on a target, and the target must bleed off that heat. And you’re heating yourself up while you’re using your weapons.

Roberts said you’d have to have a hard time keeping the laser on the target. He says he uses mass drivers such as magnetically accelerated ball bearings. Missiles might be the best way to get around this.

Jerry mentioned the ignorance of physics--heat generation, recoil, etc.

Cook said the sense was that large fleet actions in space are off-base. They’re fun but implausible. Went on to say his stories are about the lives of the grunts.

Roberts mentioned the cost of building a space battleship--consider how much it costs to build and run an aircraft carrier. Probably a healthy percentage of a gross planetary product.

Jerry talked about geography in impacting naval battles--he designed his space universe to make certain battles inevitable, though the impact would be on the level of strategy (where you fight), as opposed to tactics.

He also went on to say that Sherman said, “War is Hell,” and proceeded to make it so, when the previous trend of history for the last few centuries was to make it less so. You have to fool these boys into fighting, because telling them “War is Hell” isn’t a good motivator. You can turn boys into soldiers but you have a much harder time with girls because they’re too smart to be turned into soldiers. Pay serious attention to the troops in your stories. Learn what war is really like--it is not like Dickson’s stuff. There’s not much glory in it. A big piece is about getting your soldiers to fight. Nobody ever wanted to die for a standard of living--especially someone else’s standard of living.

Green said if there’s not a logical thread to explain the basis of the weaponry they’re deploying, he drops out of the story. Lasers are on the battlefield right now, for instance, though not as imagined in SF. The other thing about getting people to fight is not to make things implausible by putting a second lieutenant in charge of a division--the experienced NCO would be the one actually running the unit, though the lieutenant would technically give the orders. Should say, “Sergeant, what would you advise me to do?”

Shining examples of getting it right: The Prince. A Small, Distant War. The Draga novels by S.M. Stirling. Rosinante books -- The Pirates of Rosinante, by Alexis Gillerman.

What kills or disabled soldiers? According to a previously top secret forensic ballistic study, it’s from small, very rapidly moving objects--not bullets. The modern hand grenade is designed to break into very small fragments. We don’t have armor to beat that yet. If you’re armored, bullets rarely kill people...unless you’re Sergeant York.

Cities in Future: Skipped this one.

“Hard” Fantasy: Really looked forward to this one. Tim Powers, Karen Anderson, Brandon Sanderson, Phyllis Eisenstein, Fiona Patton. Came into it in the middle of a discussion on the physics of staff slings. Sanderson quoted Asimov, who said he hated fantasy because was fundamentally about a barbarian with muscles killing a brainy wizard, the polar inversion of SF’s core theme.

Sanderson claims hard fantasy is about sticking to the laws of physics and only break the ones necessary for magic. He sees it as research-intensive to get it all right.

Hard fantasy treats magic as a consistent system, a sphere of the setting that has underlying rules, and sticks to them. Powers says he writes hard fantasy because you don’t accidently break laws of physics. Example is the tiny man who has to eat to keep his metabolism up and doesn’t have much brain volume in the first place. You do want your magic to have a system with attendant limitations, but not so systematized that it becomes technology a la Arthur Clarke’s axiom about high technology. If you do so, you lose the essence of fantasy as numinous, shivery dreamstuff. The sense of wonder that breaks rules as opposed to working with them.

Fiona Patton says base your setting on solid geography, weather, climate, and the effect of that geography should be consistent, as geography is the primary shaper of culture.

Impact on characters should be absolutely consistent with setting and magic. Think about bits that go with the setting, like economics and taxation.

Eisenstein on what makes a hard fantasy. Three little boxes: (1) Law of conservation of energy -- where does magical energy come from? What’s the cost? (2) Don’t lose the sense of wonder, draw your “just because” line. Don’t break your rules. (3) Learn the magic. Unwritten rule is “he who understands the magic best wins.”

Thoughts about laws of symmetry and contagion. Follow systems--the key to hard fantasy is to understand the subject matter you’re working with. You can invent it wholesale, but once you’ve done so, you need to stick with it and extrapolate it as far as you want. It’s a Hermetic concept of a system, very scientific.

Anderson said consistent technology in a fantasy setting is required. Avoid achronisms (elements that should not exist in that society, given the technological level). Explore the limitations on the setting, and how the magic affects them and impacts the society. Look at the social stratification, the limits on equine stamina, the hygeine. Avoid kickstand Kawasaki horses. Look at superstition and folk belief. Look at religion.

Tolkien and Martin qualify as hard fantasy, I think. Both Middle-Earth and Westeros convey the idea of firm rules and constraints in the supernatural sense.

World Con, Day 3
Friday, August 25, 2006

Long post, as I had a long list of panels to attend today:

● The Analog Story: What is it?
● World Government
● Humor
● 21st Century Technology
● SF Anthropology
● Children’s Fantasy

“The Analog Story: What is it?” The panel was amusing but not that helpful so far--Harry Turtledove offered the comparison to the definition of porn: it exists, but you know it when you see it. Like I said, not immediately helpful, but it got better.

There’s a human component to it, perhaps, but I’m seeing that in virtually every good story. They also seem to be coming down against use of graphic profanity, since it doesn’t move the story forward. Avoid clunky, unnecessary stuff at the beginning, trim things down hard.

You don’t have to focus on machines and the science. Focus on the STORY. Two simple things: (1) include one element of scientific speculation that supports the story, and (2) make it sound plausible. If you can’t prove it’s impossible, it passes muster. Even vampire stories could work if they meet these criteria. Stories don’t have to have happy endings, either.

If you ever send a rewrite of a rejected story to Stan, you’re welcome to do that, but mention that up front in the cover letter, describe what you’ve changed, and send what Stan may have said on the previous rejection. Remind him of what he suggested.

Allen M. Steele mentioned a piece of advice from Harlan Ellison when you’re looking at one of your old sucky stories: dig in and find the core idea that excited you about the story in the first place, then try to revisit with a focus on that idea.

Once you build a rep, the expectations for your stories increase. Sometimes you’ll get a rejection from Stan, but the story may sell quickly in another market. Don’t give up on a story if Analog rejects it. Keep it in circulation.

Analog protags need to make a credible effort to solve the problem. Protagonists who whine and do nothing annoy Stan.

Ideally, Stan would like to have a funny piece in every issue--and a comic as well. Avoid the obvious cliches, though. I should send him my Blast Terwilliger stuff. I’m sort of bummed I didn’t send him “Some Units,” but I’m sure I’ll enjoy its home with Blade, Blood, and Thruster. Maybe I’ll send “Sweets for Master” to Analog. Bottom line is, I need to send to the major markets first and let them weed out the stories that don’t fit.

World Government: Comments about major cities being in some cases more powerful than the national government. Others about the tipping point toward a one world government--the consensus seems to be that it will be thrust upon us by a global crisis.

Evidently Dante (yes, that Dante) made a case for world government. Also Kant, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, and Victor Hugo. These guys made the case that such a global government was the only way to lasting peace.

Another major point is that world government will have limited power locally. Most governance will still be local. World government may focus more on enforcing international law, baseline civil rights for women, eliminating slavery, making economic policy and environmental resource allocation.

What about dealing with global inequities such as water wars? Look at the Ogalala Aquifer and the disputes among the states demanding water from it.

World government could evolve from an EU model, but could be imposed by a global crisis. The panel discussion stimulated a pretty cool debate with audience input. Unfortunately, a number of folks got on soapboxes, which wasn’t as interesting, frankly. One gentleman threw out the notion of anarchy as a desirable state (or non-state) of affairs. The panelists rebutted him firmly, one panelist citing Somalia as an example of anarchy and social chaos--the local bully rules in cases of anarchy. A lot of these people seem to hold to the idea that everyone will arrive at the same “reasoned” principles given time. I’m not so sure, though I tend to see the evolution of world government occurring via regional economic alliances taking on political roles and growing on a membership basis. Another guy ranted on the virtues of the free market as a way to a peaceful society--a voluntary set of transactions.

Humor in SF and Fantasy: Lee Martindale said humor seems to be selling now. Peter S. Beagle said only two SF writers used humor when he was young. There’s a lot more now, a great trend. Stan Schmidt said we definitely need humor. John Scalzi writes humor and buys humor. Decent discussion, but the main point for me was reinforcement of the tenet to submit to major markets; they’re hungry for good comedy stories.

21st Century Tech: Ended up skipping this so I could meet with the guy who found my note offering space in my hotel room in return for shared cost.

Future Anthropology: Some neat ideas here, but nothing earth-shaking. Best comment came from Steven Barnes, who said the telegraph was humanity inventing its own central nervous system. It was the first time in history we could communicate out of line of sight. Of course, I spent time editing a story, so I probably missed the brilliant parts of this panel.

Children’s Fantasy: Garth Nix and Catherine McMullen on this panel, which puts the Australians at the top of the game, as far as I’m concerned. Their theory is that good kid/YA work is universal. Garth says he writes books and stories for himself, thinking about the widest audience, and he lets his editors figure out how to sell it. He says YA is a subset of adult.

Nix says the top level of story has to appeal, with a straightforward structure and language. Not necessarily simple prose, but elegant and clear. If the meaning has a deeper layer that appeals to older kids and adults, the story will carry.

McMullen recommennds Neil Gaiman’s Coraline as a great example of kid fiction.

Some neat discussion of books by Susan Cooper, Philip Pullman, etc. Garth Nix enjoyed Henry Treece’s work and Tove Jansson’s Moomintroll, both of which were formative for me when I was nine or ten. Cool to see how we’re all--many others in the audience as well--connected by these shared backgrounds. A lot of nostalgia here.

Spoke with Garth Nix afterwards. He was gracious and friendly. Got his signature on our copy of Lirael. He told me the story of how his series The Seventh Tower came to be. Amazing how much the Writers of the Future win opens doors and brings a certain quantum of instant credibility.

Now, of course, I have to sell the next story or next novel.

World Con, Day 2
Thursday, August 24, 2006

Talked a bit with Jay Lake today, a phenomenally talented and hard-working guy. Check his link here: He had very kind words to say about my writing, essentially that I had more base talent and style than he started with, so that if I would just write, he expected me to do better than him in the market. Really quite a generous pick-me-up, since I’m embarking along a career that involves a high level of uncertainty. I don’t know that I agree with it; Jay’s a formidable talent with a prodigious imagination, but I appreciate the stroke.

Had another odd encounter (I suppose that’s a Freudian slip, but any meeting with Jay is memorable) with the publisher of the magazine Continuum. I purchased an issue with a Jay story in it, mentioned I was a Writers of the Future winner. The publisher, Bill, was very nice, but immediately responded, “Well, you’re probably beyond what my magazine offers, but I hope you’ll still submit to us.” That’s an indication of the respect Writers of the Future has.

Also spoke with James Patrick Kelly at the Asimov’s booth, congratulated him on his brilliant short story “Monster” that appeared in the anthology Paragons. Tried not to gush, but that’s one of my favorite pieces. Kelly told me he’d worked at a dry cleaner’s early in his writing career. If you haven’t read “Monster,” do so. It’s about a wannabe serial killer about to snap. And that’s all I can say without making this comment a spoiler.

I decided to go offsite for dinner--returned to the Chapman University area near the house of my friend and had the Salmon Bowl at the Tokyo Cafe, a sushi place on Grassell. Basic rice and vegetables with a piece of grilled salmon. as I drove back to the hotel, I felt the protein settling comfortably in my stomach. Wound the evening up in the Anime room watching the 2004 version of Appleseed. Amazing CG animation mapped to motion-captured models. The writing and presentation of the story was murky, but I was OK with it. And the visuals and action scenes were gorgeous, especially with the mechanics of the landmates. At about midnight, I finally went up to crash in my room, which turns out to be on the 13th floor. I didn’t think hotels had thirteenth floors, but this one doesn’t have a tenth floor. Go figure. I think it’s pretty cool.

Tomorrow I’ll try to take notes on the actual panels I attend.

World Con, Day 1
Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Stepped into World Con feeling sort of financially chained to a rack--in addition to $120 per night for a room, you have to pay for parking and internet. I’m keeping my receipts, but it still feels as though I’m bleeding money. I’ve chosen to be judicious about my discretionary spending, meaning I’m eating tactically and seldom.

My first moment of World Con can be captured by coming onto the immense, cavernous dealer floor and being confronted by C3PO and R2D2 in a line of famous movie robots, then turning the corner and facing the old Batmobile from the Adam West TV series, plus the Delorean from Back to the Future. Surreal as heck, in other words.

The number of cool books here is staggering. I have to keep my hands jammed in my pockets to keep from dropping some serious cash. I’ve spotted someone carrying a fat Space Opera anthology, and I have to admit I’d grab that if I saw it for sale. There’s the usual mix of booths offering swords and armor, medieval slinkywear, crystal dragons, art prints, and various fantasy jewelry for sale. I did buy some runic Fudge dice from a Polish company that specalizes in themed gaming dice. Call it a testimony to my old gaming days. I wasn’t kidding about the facilities being huge. By the end of the day I think I’d walked about eight miles.

Stopped by the Galaxy Press booth in the far, far corner of the room, signed some books, chatted with the ever-cheerful Sarah Caruso. It was nice to take a load off for a few minutes. I’m still blown away by the presence of my story in the book. Page one, *pant-pant*. Breathe...!