Travel

WorldCon RoundUp

I’m a little late in writing this, but better late than never! I attended the 73rd WorldCon in Spokane, WA a couple of weeks ago and it was one of the best experiences of my writing career (so far). This post will cover the trip, some of the people I met, the panels I attended, the books I had signed, the readings I heard, and last but not least, photos of some of the experiences! I’ll also be doing a series of posts in the coming weeks to describe my path to WorldCon, which will hopefully help you if you’re considering attending your first WorldCon as a writer! I am avoiding politics in this post, as it is about my experiences specifically, and I don't feel that I have enough to bring to the political field that were the Hugo awards and other goings on. However, if you are interested in that topic, Wired has a great summary of everything that happened there.

WorldCon was at the Spokane Convention Center right downtown in Spokane, WA. Thankfully it’s only a two hour drive for me so getting there was easy. Unfortunately there are a lot of wild fires burning in the state right now and things were quite smokey on the way in.

Wednesday I mostly focused on getting into the hotel, registering for the con, and attending my first panel!

The panel I attended was all about contracts. I am now sure, more than ever, that I don't want to be a lawyer. (Glad we covered that). The panel focused on how, as an author, you want to make sure that the contract is in your best interest where of course, the publisher is writing the contract to be in theirs. Some really handy info from the author Mike Resnick and literary agent Joshua Bilmes.

The rest of the day Wednesday was mostly getting settled in, exploring the dealers' room, etc. I also attended several parties Wednesday night including First Night and the location bid parties for the contenders in the 2017 WorldCon bid. I have to say, while there was free booze, the parties were tough to attend on my own.

Oh, and Wednesday/Thursday also looked like the world was going to end in Spokane.

That's the sun btw, not the moon, and that is an unfiltered look at the sky. The smoke was terrible.

Thursday was a day full of panels. I got a lot out of the day, attending a self publishing panel, a live Ditch Diggers recording (if you aren't listening to Ditch Diggers, you should be!), a panel on writing diverse characters in SFF, and a reading from Brandon Sanderson from the 3rd Stormlight archive book! Thursday night also saw a drinks with authors event, at which I won an ARC (advanced reading copy) of Paul Cornel's new novela, Witches of Lychford,  from TOR.com. I also got a chance to meet chat with Dan Wells and Brandon Sanderson for a few minutes. Again, this was a tough thing to go to on my own. I recognized a LOT of my favorite authors here, but the authors weren't really chatting it up with the crowd, and it was tough to get into conversations. I left fairly quickly.

Friday was an amazing day. I had a chance to pitch my novel to an agent and editor at sponsored pitching sessions. This was a fairly large, nervous part of the con for me, but both of these conversations went very well! I also had a chance to see Writing Excuses recorded live on Friday...


...and in fact they recorded three episodes with Gail Carriger, Kevin J. Anderson, and Charlie N. Holmberg. Super cool to see how they put these together! Mur Lafferty also organized an I Should be Writing meetup on Friday, so I got to meet her and Matt Wallace. And, bonus, Matt read from his upcoming novela Envy of Angels which sounded amazing. I've already pre-ordered it over at Amazon and you should too!

 

Friday also saw the chance for me to play Magic the Gathering with Brandon Sanderson! I was terrible. But I got to play MTG (a win), against Brandon Sanderson (a super win), he signed a card for me, AND I got to go hang out at the bar with some new friends I met at the con.  All in all, an excellent day.

 

Nothing terribly exciting happened Saturday and Sunday. I spent most of those days perusing the dealer room and meeting authors, having books singed, and attending panels. I also had a chance to chat about my work with a number of authors and people in the publishing industry. It was less about pitching, and more about getting to know people. I got to watch the Hugo awards with a great bunch of people (including Matt Wallace). THEN on Sunday, I got to listen to Mur Lafferty read from three of her upcoming projects, all of which sound super cool. In fact, I got to meet LOTS of people that were there selling their books.

Shadows Beneath: The Writing Excuses Anthology
By Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, Howard Tayler

All in all, I think WorldCon was worth every cent and the time I spent there. I am not sure I will go again as a non-professional writer. Not unless it's once again in a city that is within driving distance. The cost of attending + flight + hotel + vacation seems prohibitive for me to go without a real purpose. However, given the location and the experiences I had, I loved it.

I met a TON of authors in person, including:

Brandon Sanderson Howard Taylor Dan Wells Charlie N. Holmberg Gail Carriger Mur Lafferty Matt Wallace Kameron Hurley Wesley Chu

That's not counting all of the amazing northwest talent I met from the Oregon/Washington/Idaho/Alaska area.

I came back so energized and excited that I cannot wait to experience another con in the future. I'm hoping to hit GenCon in Indiana next summer (thanks to family being there and combining trips). So, hopefully more coming on that in the spring. I'm hoping that Mary Robinette Kowal in particular will be out and about at some point as well, so I can get the last signature on my Writing Excuses Anthology, Shadows Beneath.

OH. Right. And I officially started writing book 2. That was pretty fun as well.

A Change in Perspective

There is an age old adage in fiction writing: Write What You Know. I tend to agree with this line of thinking. I tried for years, somewhat unsuccessfully, to write a book that was sort of a spy thriller. You know what? I haven't read a lot of that genre. As soon as I started working on a sci-fi / fantasy novel (which I have read a lot of) I found the work much more compelling. Terrific. I am now writing what I know. That's all well and good, but there's a problem. How do you know what you don't know? And, how do you represent that in your writing? Even worse, what happens if you actively try to write something new and exciting, and you write it just like what you know, when really, it shouldn't be?

I've spent the last week in Vienna, Austria. This isn't my first trip to Europe, and it's my third trip to a German speaking country. I love it here. The people are genuinely some of the friendliest people I've ever interacted with. Yes, I think they even surpass Midwest hospitality.

Spending any time out and about in Europe should immediately help you notice that they don't do everything the same way as we do in the US. I mention this, because of one very important point: If you are writing sci-fi and/or fantasy, and you haven't had a chance to really see or interact with other culture, you may very well write your fantastic world to be just like your home town.

That's not going to be very exciting, is it?

So, write what you know, but don't make what you're writing too much like what you know. That gets to be a little challenging.

Here are a few things that stand out (without touching on obvious language, currency, brand, etc. differences):

  • In the US if you order a beverage, it is almost always brought to you in a cup/glass. You typically get free refills of this beverage (and in fact, are likely irritated if you do not). In Europe, all beverages tend to come in individual bottles. You pay for each additional bottle. So, if you want five glasses of soda or water with lunch, you might well ring up a beverage total that exceeds your food total.
  • In the US at my job, the custodian is male. He takes care to ensure that any people in either the men's or women's restroom have exited before he closes the facility and THEN he begins to clean, empty trash, etc. The Europe on multiple occasions I have seen / experienced custodial staff of the opposite sex entering a restroom and working on it, even while it is occupied.
  • In the US (and, also in Paris) I've found that while using public transportation (e.g. subways) that you have to go through a turn style each time you want to ride the train. You have to validate a ticket to ensure that you have paid the proper ticket price. In Vienna there are no turn styles. Like New York, if you buy a weekly pass, you get a single ticket, but you don't have to do anything with it other than carry it. Even in a relatively large city, there is trust that people will pay for a ticket prior to boarding a train, and there is little enforcement.
  • In the US, few buildings are more than a few decades old. That McDonalds you are driving through has likely always been a McDonalds. In European cities, that is hardly the case. The Starbucks you're in could very well be in a building that is a hundred or more years old. Just look at the architecture, the statues carved into the outside of the building. Is everything like that here? Not at all, but in the downtown areas it is likely this way.
  • In the US, when you walk up to someone you know they are going to speak English. You also know they probably don't speak any other language. When you walk up to talk to someone in a European city, there's a reasonable chance to speak English. This is in spite of the fact that you are in a French, or German, or other primary language country. Even more, at events (like the Opera we attended) many of the ushers actually great you with the question Deutsche or English?

I could go on for pages like this.

Think about the setting you are trying to write. Think about the world building you want to do. Then stop and think about how people are actually going to exist in that world. Does everyone really speak the same language? Why would some people speak the same language, and others not? Why would buildings get reused in some places, and get torn down and rebuilt in others?

The take away is that if you haven't had a chance to travel, particularly abroad, you should be very careful as you build your worlds. You should do research on how people communicate, how people act, how people interact in other parts of the world. This will only make your writing stronger, and only make it more believable that you are writing a fantasy world, and not Anywhere USA.

I recently read Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal (@maryrobinette), which is a historical fantasy. This goes a step above creating a magical world, as it is set in a particular historical time and place, and in fact, based in a setting popularized by another author.

Researching a place doesn't necessarily mean you have to go to that place, but it does mean that you need to consider how you want your setting to work. As long as you're conscious of the fact that your default will be to just write what you know, you've already made the first step in the right direction.

Some Thoughts from January 2015

January was an interesting month. On a happy note, I completed my second half marathon at Walt Disneyland in Anaheim. It was a Star Wars themed run. How cool is that? So my knee hurt so badly for a week and a half afterwards that I thought I needed a new one. So I thought I broke my foot for the first three days. It was totally awesome. Less awesome and on a much sadder note, my grandmother passed away in January. Then, ten days later, my wife's grandmother passed away. That awesome half marathon experience was sandwiched in between those two, terrible events. A lot of travel, a lot of painful, tiring emotions, and not a lot of great writing happened in the second half of January. However, some interesting things did crop up and I thought I'd share what I can.

I finally read the Wool Omnibus by Hugh Howley. My good friend Ben Dalton (@bendalton) recommended it to me probably five years ago and I finally got around to reading it. [Minor Spoilers ahead]. I have to say, I didn't love it. I totally understand why it's a runaway hit and why it's doing so well. It's very well written. But, I don't love how the characters pass through the story. Specifically, by the time we get to what I would consider to be the main protagonist I had almost lost all interest in the book, due to what happened to the first two characters I read about. I definitely learned some things about structure and ending sections to really draw the reader in with cliffhangers. I can't say I enjoyed it beyond that though. Bummer.

This is, by the way, something of a trend for me.  I have a really hard time with stories that aren't character driven. I love stories that follow a group of characters and really focus on them. Sure, the world building is cool. But I have a really hard time staying with a series of books when they are constantly jumping around and not sticking with the same cast of characters. I love Terry Brooks' work, but it's my one main complaint about the Shannara series. Each part of the series is just a few short books and then we jump decades (or centuries) to learn about another generation of the family and their adventures.

While I was home with my family, we spent some time talking about old objects in my grandmother's house. One thing that I've always been fascinated with is an old pocket watch. Every visit I've made to that house, as long as I can remember visiting that house, the watch has been hanging in a small glass bell shaped container inside my grandmother's china cabinet. For only the second, maybe the third, time in my life I got to really look at and hold that watch. It's much older than I thought it was. Like, two or three generations older than I thought it was. Not only is that incredibly cool, but it got me thinking about a new idea for a series of books. I'm sure this will be on the back burner for quite a while, but I wanted to share this because even in that emotional and grief filled time, I still managed to think a bit about writing and ended up coming up with, what I think, is a super cool way to pay a small tribute to my grandparents and some of the memories I have from my childhood visits with them.

I mentioned briefly in my post about Distinction in the Darkness  that the visit to my grandmother some time back helped inspire the story. The grandmother that died was this grandmother. Even though she wasn't actually the character in that story, and even thought it's not really a story about her, the story was very much inspired by experiences I had with her and interactions I had with her after she moved into her nursing home.

As I move into February, I'm about 30% through my next revision pass on the book. I think that the updates are really making an improvement, and the feedback I've been getting on the early chapters is favorable. I still struggle with an unlikable character, and today I pushed her first PoV chapter back even farther into the second half of the book. I feel this is going to need some attention at some point, but I'm already juggling more things in this revision than I really want to be, so it may have to wait. Or, she may just stay unlikeable in this first book. If all goes well, I'll have plenty of opportunity to make you like her later.

Finally, I'm starting to focus in on some less creative and more functional writing. Brainstorming and outlining continues for book 2, although I've slowed a lot on that until this next revision is finished. I've also started working on elevator pitch materials, as well as planning for a full synopsis of the book. I'm 99% sure I'll be attending WorldCon in Spokane in August later this year, and I want to make sure I have this material ready to go. Do I think I'll need it at the con? Unlikely. Do I want to make sure I have it if I do need it? Absolutely.

Death at a Fashion Show

It’s a rare treat that my wife and I get to tag along on one another’s business trips. In fact, if memory serves, this is only the second or third trip in five plus years that we’ve been able to accomplish it. She had a meeting in Las Vegas, and who can say no to Vegas? Unfortunately Vegas, particularly the Vegas strip, is not really what I would consider to be a ‘writer friendly’ zone. There’s music everywhere that is constantly interrupted by advertisements, it’s hot and bright outside, space is both expensive and limited, and there are thousands of people wandering around at all hours of the day. As I close in on completing the second draft of my first book, I really wanted to take the time to get out of the house, away from the distractions of normal life (e.g. my dogs), and spend some time working on the book during the day. The problem was finding the right place to do it.

Typically when we vacation in Vegas we stay more towards the center of the strip. It gives easy walking access to pretty much anything, and the hotels are more modernized than the north and south ends. This time we were down at the far end of the strip and the room we were in was obviously outdated. This doesn’t really bother me as a tagalong, but it did make writing a challenge. A dark room with limited light (electric or otherwise!) is not a great place to spend a few hours slogging through a chapter. When all else fails, and in this case it did, I resorted to finding a Starbucks. My closest options were inside the convention center (not a great idea since the yearly Vegas Star Trek convention was going on) and at a mall. The mall sounded just fine to me.

A hot fifteen minute walk later I realized my oversight. A mall in Vegas isn’t like a mall back home. They cram even more into these than usual, have significantly more foot traffic, and cater more to the tourist than the local. The mall had two Starbucks in it: the first had no interior seating at all, and the second had four bar stools looking out over the strip (all occupied) and a few small tables outside (also occupied, despite the 100 degree heat).

After some wandering and Googling, I found another coffee shop in the mall so I headed there. It turned out to be more of a coffee stand than shop, but they had tables. Finally I could make some progress. I should probably mention here that I heard more snippets of “My Heart Will Go On” during my three hours at that table than I have since high school, thanks to constantly running Celine Dion promos. Joy.

Without spoilers, some fairly heavy things happen towards the end of my book. In particular, someone close to a main character dies and it’s a fairly emotional scene. I, in my infinite wisdom, decided to work on this chapter during my time at the mall. I was moving along at a pretty good clip, and feeling good about the work I was doing. I was even tearing up a little bit as I wrote. About this time I noticed that there were a lot more people around me than there had been the last time I had looked up from the computer twenty minutes or so earlier.

A little background. This is the “Fashion Show” mall. I assumed this referred to the countless number of designer brands in the mall. Sure. It also refers to the floor that rises up out of the flat floor to transform into a runway and the hourly fashion shows that take place here. Guess where my coffee stand was located? Yep, about fifteen feet away from the end of this runway. Thank god I hadn’t decided to sit on one of the couches. I would have been in kicking distance of the runway then and I would have had three people trying to sit on top of me for the good seat.

Anyway, so I’m killing this character off, trying not to get too emotional about it, and I have models showing off their True Religion jeans with a crowd while the music blares loud enough to drown out my ear buds. Thankfully the show was fairly short. Unfortunately, I wasn’t done with the chapter when the next one rolled around an hour later. So, I got to experience this not once, but twice during the writing of the chapter. Note that despite only being an hour apart, the two ‘shows’ were completely identical.

Looking back, it was a surreal experience. For one, saying you were killing someone in a crowd of people isn’t something you can often get away with. For another, in retrospect, I probably should have gone to the Convention Center Starbucks. At least the Star Trek people would have been distracting me with more interesting costumes. I’m sure True Religion makes very nice jeans, but I just don’t care. Sorry.

I rarely get this emotional when I write, and of all the days for that to happen, I was surrounded by people. It was also one of the few chapters in the book that I’ve been able to actually crank through in a single sitting, thanks in large part to actually having a full day to do nothing but work on the book.

There’s a lot of fun to be had in Las Vegas, and I always enjoy vacationing there. I think that the next time though I need to do a bit more homework on a good writing spot.