The Chipster Zone

Sunday, September 03, 2017

GenCon The Second, Part Last

Once More into the Fray...

None of the five of us, all strangers to each other save two, had braved the food truck lines as of Saturday morning, so face-painted Matt-the-game-runner took the first turn. We were playing "Truck Off: The Food Truck Frenzy" for the first time. It's a terrific board game where each player operates a food truck and chooses which venue to sell at (sporting event, convention, brew pub, etc.). From moment to moment you can cooperate or you can screw the others (I found this latter most entertaining). It also uses polyhedral dice, but only a little bit. I did not win. I did get the secret password, "roadkill", to get a discount to purchase a copy at the Adam's Apple Games booth, which I did. (This game was successfully Kickstarted for original delivery in March 2017.)

Here We Go A-Paneling

He was late but it was still too early in the day for Patrick Rothfuss as he hurried into the packed meeting room. The ticket-taker caught up with him half-way down the aisle, "Sir, do you have a ticket?"

"I'm on the panel," Rothfuss replied clearly through his full beard and hurried on. The room cracked up and the tension retreated.

Geoffrey Girard was also among the panelists. I listened to his Cain's Blood after seeing him at my last GenCon. He's good. Girard own's his New Jersey roots and only moments into the panel he was self-deprecating and deferring to Pat Rothfuss, touching him briefly on the shoulder. "Pat does not consent," came quickly from Rothfuss's mouth. And the tension gripped the room once more. Rothfuss let Girard off the hook shortly, but not before he'd squirmed just a bit.

They'd demonstrated more than they could have planned for this panel: Writer's Craft: Resolving Tension While Holding Interest. Susan J. Morris was moderator again. Other panelists were Maurice Broaddus and Leigh Perry.

Example of opening with tension: "They say he rode into town on a horse the color of milk but I saw him come out of the woods." (Attribution?)

Write small or go home - P. Rothfuss. You don't need death-stakes for tension.
It's about desire and what do you as a reader feel - M Broaddus

Rothfuss: watch out for false tension, it's like a wine glass placed near the edge of a table, it distracts focus as all seeing it worry it will fall and the other drama fades.

Tension needs release.

"Can't have tension without expectation," said Rothfuss, "and managing reader expectation is the hardest thing."

He also told us about "bathos", that it is half of dramatic tension (Wikipedia: bathos is associated with anticlimax, an abrupt transition from a lofty style or grand topic to a common or vulgar one. This may be either accidental (through artistic ineptitude) or intentional (for comic effect)). 

And then he plugged his Name of the Wind playing cards Kickstarter and offered preview art of the playing cards that could be shot and posted as selfies by us attendees. #NOTWArtDeck

Writer's Craft: Can a Hero Be Too Powerful? With Howard Tayler and I didn't note who all else. Short answer: Yes -- stories where the hero isn't vulnerable aren't very interesting, e.g. Superman without kryptonite, otherwise it has to be about the other characters.

My biggest takeaway was Howard's distinction among various types of good guys:
Hero - drives the plot forward
Protagonist - Has a story arc, i.e. character development, finds out who they are
Main Character - lots of focus on this person but they may have no power and may not have much of an arc, depending on who else does or what else the story is about

Writer's Craft: The art of Adding Details: Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, Mary Robinette Kowal with Steve Diamond moderating.

So this was essentially an unrecorded Writing Excuses podcast (missing Dan Wells, but they are often missing one or more cast members). It was sometimes silly and always fun, but still managed a few pearls.

Details: Focus -  Internal motivation. Breath of Rhythm - Meaningful motivation

Tone, Pacing.

Mary gave nice examples of how details can change a scene: 
1) He entered the room, there was a blonde sitting in a chair.
2) He entered the room, there was a blonde sitting in a chair with legs that went on for miles.

Zelazney: provide 2 details about a character, maybe later add a third.
Readers will fill in the rest, if the action is rich enough.

Exercise: take some of your own writing and pull out all the adjectives and adverbs. Put back just one or two per page. See which is better.

Scaffold and Fade (quoted from Kelly McCullough). Provide a few details and then just hint at the world around those details. Especially with dialect in dialog -- if you keep it up and keep it true it gets tiresome and distracting, but sprinkle them in to keep the characterization, distinction, and tone.

Writer's Craft: How to Write Micro and Flash Fiction with Karen Bovenmyer. This was a small seminar and Bovenmyer had PowerPoint slides, which was great. I wish more of these sessions would use visual aids. She has published a bunch of micro and flash fiction (typically under 500 words and 500 - 1500 words, respectively, though definitions vary and other terms and constraints are widely used). She also has a fresh novel out.

Someone said that of the 3 facets of story, character, setting and plot, a given flash fiction only really gets to explore any two of them -- but that may have been a different panel.

Bovenmyer uses the 7 point plot structure popularized by Dan Wells. The one time I really tried to use it I ended up with a 15,000 word novella, but she says it works. I plan to try. I liked her layout. The plot points appear in the story in numerical order, but you generally try to identify them in the order tagged by the letters, i.e. A then B then C, etc.:

1. Hook           (A)  Something to grab the reader
2. Plot Point I   (D)  Reveal of what the story is about
3. Pinch I        (F)  Bad thing happens/complicating
4. Midpoint       (C)  Characters commit to what's happening
5. Pinch II       (G)  Big bad thing, building to climax
6. Plot Point II  (E)  Climax itself, growth, attain power to win
7. Resolution     (B)  How things work out, or don't

I'll give a high level outline of her presentation, but not the details, you should really get that from her.

Character - what do they want (really?) why can't they have it. POV?
Language - engage the senses, evoke emotion through word choice
Setting - story could not take place elsewhere
Balance - short -- need to show but have to tell sometimes. Get in, get it done, get out
Editing - Sit on it first, cut 10%
Let it fly - get critique group feedback. Cry. Revise. Submit to pubs. Cry. Revise? Believe.

I was saturated. Left the Con for the night and picked up a local pizza en route back to my La Quinta home. Revised my piece for Sunday's professional critique. Fought with the hotel printer a bit. Channel surfed, and slept.

Everyone's a Critic

Sunday morning I read aloud two minutes worth from my WIP (Work In Progress) to two published authors and seven other writers who had brought something to be professionally critiqued. It was less painful than it could have been. (I've done this before. Still not easy.) Everyone got a crap sandwich -- some good comments, then some bad comments, followed by some good comments. Things which came up with more than one author went up on the wall.

I celebrated by hitting the expo again. I bought dice, including a 30 sided one. I got a free GenCon50 die with a coupon. I collected another button or two for my lanyard (note the Dicey Peaks one from when I played on the Expo floor a couple days earlier.)

Shortly after noon I pointed my car south. Despite total eclipse watchers gathering in Tennessee and slowing Nashville traffic to a crawl, it was a sedate drive. After the last four days at GenCon50 almost anything would be.

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Sunday, August 27, 2017

GenCon The Second, Part Two

No Dice

I was scheduled to play Dicenstein on Friday morning, but the other players were no-shows. So I watched the previous round finish up and read through the rules. Waaaay too complicated for me. I still had some time before my writing panels began so I started a systematic perusal of the exhibit hall. There are some 29 aisles and each one took about 10 minutes -- if all you did was browse along.

A Panel

Writer's Craft: How to Write an Amazing First Page (Susan J Morris (mod), Dan Wells, Leigh Perry, Marco Palmieri, Dave Mack)

Dan: Don't worry too much about the first page at first.

Leigh (who writes cozy mysteries with a skeleton sidekick): Get your (dead) body out there as soon as possible.

Marco (editor): likes to be dropped in the middle of things without preamble: total immersion; challenge readers to keep up.

Some like to be grabbed by the throat, some like to start with dialog (to get the characters rolling)
Emotion. visceral. Double duty: show the promise/genre, e.g. magic (for fantasy), tech (for sci-fi).

Ground the reader pretty quickly, if not the first page then the first (short) chapter.

Great first lines: 

"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel." – William Gibson, Neuromancer.

'He punched the door with a code combination, and awaited face check. It came promptly; the door dilated, and a voice inside said, "Come in, Felix."' -- Robert Heinlein, Beyond this Horizon (cheating here, that's 2 sentences, a full paragraph. And, heaven forbid, a semi-colon. I guess things were different in 1942.)

"The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed." Stephen King, The Dark Tower.

Make the reader want answers. Start with dramatic tension -- readers will read on without knowing exactly what's going on.

Too Many Panels

I walked past a long row of food trucks with lines up to yar and on to lunch at the 24 hour Steak'N'Shake. It was booming but I grabbed a stool at the counter without a wait. They were handling the crowd with aplomb, yes-sirree Bob. Then back for two panels and a reading. 

The first was Writer's Life: An Introvert's Guide to Interacting with the Public. Sandra Tayler was sage.

The reading was Ilana C. Myer and Sandra Tayler. A very small audience of about 7 of us. Highly recommended because we got insights into the evolution of the things they read.

The next panel wasn't part of the Writing Symposium, it was over in the Convention Center (the Symposium was in meeting rooms of the Westin hotel, attached to the CC by a skywalk). Immoral Women in RPGs  and Why We Need More of Them. It was packed but largely lost on me. Margaret Weis, a big name apparently in early Role Playing Game design was there, I think folks came to hear her.

Beware the Kickstarter, My Son

(Always with the apologies to Lewis Carroll)

I had a bit of a Hero's Journey of my own just to find my next presentation, Kickstarting your Game, Book or Film 101. It was at the Crowne Plaza hotel on the far side of the convention center. The Plaza was converted from the old central railway station with some rooms still in train cars and the architecture is of massive steel girders. My meeting room was in the farthest basement corner. 

It was worth the trek. A trio of funding-woes weary Canadian game and film producers from Lynnvander told the several of us all about losing money through successfully funded Kickstarter campaigns.Kickstarter takes 5% off the top, Amazon payments another 3%. If you use a pledge manager (like PledgeManager, Backerkit or Stripe), and you should, that's another 5 to 8 percent. 

If you account for those, the one that most first-timers don't see coming is the delinquent accounts. Credit cards that expired or got canceled between pledge and funding -- and they don't feel like ponying up for that super-double-deluxe package they signed up for. Count on another 2%.

And shipping will kill you. If you include it in the pledge you pay fees on it, too, so a $10 postage stamp costs you more like $12. Count on $11 to $16 to ship a two pound game within the continental US. What to do about a problem like Hawaii? (and Alaska?) More campaigns are handling shipping as extra after the pledging.

Give yourself at least a 15% cushion if you just hit your goal. You're gonna need it.

On the up side, if you blow past your funding goal you look super successful. on the down side if you sell a lot of copies of a game via Kickstarter then no stores will want to stock it. And 1,500 is about a minimum print run for a game, in order to get a good price from the (presumably Chinese) manufacturer. (Lynnvander had a bad print run, ended up telling the backers to throw them in the trash and Lynnvander paid for a second manufacturing run out of their own pockets -- your Kickstarter reputation will follow you, for good or ill. Oh, and so will your Kickstart, you'll be answering emails for years. Tell everybody what's happening every step of the way. It will make (almost) everyone less cranky.)

Consider paying for art, like box cover art, yourself up front. Shows everyone you have skin in the game and you can use it on your Kickstarter page. And backers love the pie chart that shows where their money is going.

Board Game Geek is a great resource. These guys were funny and forthcoming. And they've kept their bank accounts above water, unlike others who have used the next Kickstarter to pay for the shortfalls in the prior one.  Uh-oh.

Your mileage may vary.

Writing Excuses LIVE!

I made my way back to the friendly and familiar surrounds of the Westin, determined never to run my own Kickstarter, The recording sessions for the Writing Excuses podcast had sold out before I got my tickets but I got in as overflow part way through the first hour. The full regular cast was present: Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, Mary Robinette Kowal and Dan Wells. This season they are interviewing experts in things other than writing. I saw a falconer (Larry Dixon), a street artist (Illus), a rap producer (Wild Style) and a lawyer whose name escapes me. All good shows. They ended after 8:00 pm.

I called it a night.

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Saturday, August 26, 2017

GenCon The Second


I like dice. I'm not a gamer -- not a larping, cosplaying, role-embracing, miniature painting, up-all-night D&D-er. But I do like dice. I'm designing a polyhedral dice solitaire game. Maybe two. And I like board games. And I wanted another chance to discover new games and to hang out with writerly folks and friends from Writing Excuses and to hear wise instruction and tales from living-making authors. So I traveled to GenCon again this year.

It was bigger than ever. Mostly that meant more crowded, even though they spread things out more, too, more, that is, than the other time I attended, which was 2015. But I'm getting ahead of myself. First there was The Journey, a leisurely six hour drive to Indianapolis with a stop in Louisville for some Skyline Chili. I listened to a small portion of The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. It's 36 CDs long, so when I say a small portion I mean about a twelfth.

It turned out I drove a little too leisurely, forgetting that Indianapolis, despite being almost due north of Huntsville, is eastern time; so instead of checking in to my hotel first I went straight to the Indianapolis Table Tennis Club. I played a good couple of hours there and then headed back to the other side of town and my La Quinta home for the next 4 nights.

Like all the area hotels it was sold out largely with GenCon attendees. I smiled to see the lobby full of gamers gaming. Even the desk clerk had done her hair blue for the occasion. It was late and I went straight to bed after showering and eating and channel surfing for a couple of hours.

On to the Show

I really wish my first Writer's Symposium panel had been truer to its title: Writing 101: The Basics -- From POV to Punctuation. At one point Kelly Swails (moderator) started to dive into something, maybe dialogue attribution and when you could skip including "she said" and the like but quickly stopped herself saying that was more like Writing 201. Exhale. We did get some story and self-motivation basics:

Persistence, Time, Discipline. Know what the characters want. Know what the villains are planning to do. (Eric Scott DeBie)

First Draft: What you want to say (Heart). Final Draft: How you want to say it (Head)(Howard Andrew Jones).

Starting reluctance means the scene isn't right (work your outline?) Read. Look at grammar and sentence structure in what you read. Butt in chair. "I won't screw this scene up if I don't write it." Allow yourself to write a bad story. (Swails)

Time management. Write for yourself first. (Dan Wells)

Panel Two: Real Monsters and Vicious Animals (Elizabeth Vaughn, Larry Corriea, Christopher Husberg, Eric Scott De Bie)

Do description through POV reaction.
Use other senses (than sight).
Contrast the mundane with monsters.
More on YouTube than most of us can stand. Shaved bear. Cryptozoology. Wikipedia.
Perception gets blurry in a fight -- go a little bit random and sparing.
Action scenes can be wordy and okay but really wordy can confuse a reader. Movies have the luxury of dragging a viewer forward to the next scene, words on a page can't.

Quick Trip to the Convention Floor

After two panels I had a break and hit the exhibit hall. It is huge. Hundreds of vendors and thousands of people. I found Howard Tayler's booth and chatted with him briefly while he drew. I bought the well-worn version of the Schlock Mercenary Maxims book. Howard signed it for me. Then I found Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells' booth and bought some of Dan's audio books. Later I had him sign them for me.

Next I went to the Calliope Games booth. I had backed a Kickstarter for a new game called Dicey Peaks. The game wasn't expected until October but had come in early and they had arranged pick up and demo games at GenCon, which was sweet. I picked up my signed copy and later got to play a round with the game's designer, Scott Almes. I did not win. But I did get to ask him whether there was a way to play it as solitaire. He said there was no official variant in the rules but that you could play and try to minimize the number of turns it takes to plant your flag atop the mountain. Did I mention I'm designing my own solitaire dice game? Cool to get to talk on the subject with an accomplished designer.

More Panels

Worldbuilding: Creating a Universe of Worlds (Susan J. Morris, Brandon Sanderson, James Sutter, Dave Mack, Marco Palmieri)

I was here, like dozens of others, to get a dose of Brandon Sanderson, but as usual everyone was terrific. In particular Susan J. Morris is a great moderator. Marco is also an editor so brings that perspective.

How to avoid info dumps? Have a newbie/fish-out-of-water character that has to have other characters explain stuff to them. or just bring stuff in gradually, sci-fi/fantasy readers don't need everything clear from the get-go.

Brandon: A grand skill is to be informative AND entertaining.

Avoid tokenism, consider having more than one character from a culture and show differences and similarities.

James Sutter is with Paizo who's new science fantasy role playing game, Starfinder, dropped on Thursday. Their booths had hundreds of people in line all day to pick up copies.

Writer's Craft: Are You Overthinking the Story (Kelly McCullough, Richard Lee Byers, Beth Cato, ??)

Stay in writer brain for first draft, keep editor brain at bay.

World building iceberg -- only a seventh may end up visible in the story but the rest needs to be there, but not fully formed. How much? Who knows...

Stuck on a scene? Look at it from another (tertiary) character's point of view.

I'm interested to check out Beth Cato's Breath of Earth.

Not To Be Missed

An Evening with Patrick Rothfuss

He sold out the large ballroom, so 1,000 or more seats and it filled. Once again he had us agree to not share the grittier details of his regalations, but if you get the chance, he is funny and real. A good storyteller. He's a relatively new parent and has found new connections with parents, the way he had with geeks before that -- just another tribe.

He also asserted, strongly, something that I had already settled on in my mind: in stories, you don't have to kill people for drama. There doesn't have to be horrible death to make a story compelling. You need tension, and stakes, but it doesn't have to be gruesome and final. Especially not for works targeted for all ages. He had some psychology to back up why it might not be good.

He also had some psych on why "spoiling" very young children is a good thing. The young brain decides what kind of world it lives in: nurturing and safe or cutthroat and dangerous. It gets ingrained and manifests in "do unto others". (My words, but I think I got the meaning.)

Late Dinner

Me and some of my fellow Writing Excuses Retreat alumni met Dan Wells for dinner about 10:00 pm at the Ram restaurant. They had reprinted their menus just for GenCon (this con is a big deal for downtown Indianapolis). I had the occasionally named "Fry Haddock and Release the Dogs of War". It was delicious. They had also swapped the in-house TVs from their normal sports fare to showing Bladerunner. It had been a long day and dinner was cozy but sedate.

It was followed by my 15 minute drive to La Quinta and a much shorter session of channel surfing.

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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Odds and Endings: WFC 2016 Part Three

My notes become much sparser for Saturday and the half-day on Sunday, which may in the end be merciful. Nonetheless I'll put down here for posterity such highlights and attended agenda as I have marked in my program.

First it seems that my final event on Friday was the Starlit Wood release party put on by the editors or the publishers or some such folks. It's an anthology of "New Fairy Tales" by Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone and about a dozen others. The party was very loud and crowded. They had decorated the suite by putting some nifty out takes up on the wall. Here's an example. I also hung out for a bit with some other Writing Excuses retreat alumni, which was cool.

Saturday started a little too early after the party but I wanted to catch a reading by Larry Hodges at 10:00 and I'm glad I did. Larry's short stories are pretty humorous and it's a good way to kick off a day. After that was "The Fantasies of James Thurber" panel. Thurber was a Columbus native and apparently his "13 Clocks" is not to be missed, or so said the panel and also Neil Gaiman who wrote an introduction for a recent reprinting that I heard him read on the drive home from Columbus as I was listening to "A View from the Cheap Seats". Mostly I remember Thurber because my dad loved watching "My World and Welcome To It" on TV.

Next up I listened to artists and Guests of Honor Larry Dixon and Randal Spangler in conversation. Spangler is a pretty regular seeming guy and his art is fantasy but not what I'd call high fantasy. Dixon on the other hand is a character and the combination was entertaining. Dixon has done lots of book covers, been around film and TV (he has a gamers targeted series on YouTube) and is an aviary expert -- that is, he works with birds. He told us about an African Gray parrot that made up a word. It could recognize and say "banana" and "berry" but when given a piece of apple, something it hadn't had before, it said "banan-erry". He also told us that "laughter is a self-massage, electro magnetic pulses run through your muscles when you laugh" and that "calligraphy is swordsmanship writ small".

We also learned that a (fantasy book) cover artist's job is to slow a customer browsing through a store down from 3/4 second per book to 2 seconds; by 4 seconds they are picking it up.

I attended panels on new archaeology finds and how they inform fiction and on middle grade fantasy. I went to a reading by Guy Gavriel Kay. And once again to a panel that tried to define Weird fiction and mostly failed again. Horror editors Ellen Datlow and weird editor Mike Kelly couldn't quite agree. It has something to do with chthulu and the Old Ones (Lovecraft). Or maybe see Van der Meers "Anthology of the Weird". Steve Rasnic: idiosyncratic strangeness of individuals; impossible/improbable but a ring of truth -- not vampires and werewolves. Other thoughts: "bizarro" adds humor. Weird can come from a sad place. Horror must be dark. Weird has deadpan. Sounds a bit like some of my stuff, but not quite on the nose.

Saturday I ate dinner in the hotel restaurant, on my own, which was a nice break from the press of people. Afterwards was the Art Show Reception with coffee and dessert. I broke brownies and had a nice chat with David Boop and Peter Wacks (Peter likes to write amongst activity, like at Perkins Pancake House, one of the only places open late in his town.)

Sunday morning I think the only panel I went to was "Atheist Fantasy? Is God Dead?" The panelists (Larry Hodges, Max Gladstone, Auston Habershaw, Kevin Minerd and L.E. Modesitt) were careful not to tread on faiths, beliefs, or a lack thereof in their fellows or the audience but still managed to be interesting. Someone noted that the latin roots of the word "religion" has to do with a binding of will/self to something larger. I think Auston noted that Fantasy tends to contain powerful magical beings that can create life or grant wishes and sagely asked, "Isn't a god just one of those with a fan club?"

There was another panel with a great title that I ended up skipping out on: "How to Make a Small Fortune in Specialty Publishing (Starting with a Large Fortune)". I packed up my books and commemorative 42nd World Fantasy convention glass and checked out. On the drive home I stopped for a Skyline Chili in St. Matthews, Kentucky.

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Sunday, November 20, 2016

Secondsies: WFC 2016 Part Two

My second helping of World Fantasy Convention 2016 started at the very reasonable hour of eleven o'clock in the morning, plenty of time for me to have purchased a bottle of grapefruit juice at the convenience store just off the hotel atrium to go with my leftover cinnamon and raisin bagel.

First up was "Keeping YA Weird" with Fran Wilde, Ellen Klages, Rani Graff and possibly Alan Smale -- members of some panels did not quite line up with the printed program due to last minute conflicts and what-not and my notes didn't always cover the differences. My apologies. Here "The Lie Tree" by Frances Hardinge was highly recommended by Fran Wilde, who's opinion I quickly came to respect. Also recommended was "Harrison Squared" by Daryl Gregory along with better known (to me at least) works like Shirley Jackson's "We Have Always Lived in the Castle" and Neil Gaiman's "Coraline". Any kind of a precise definition of the "Weird" genre continued to elude me.

Next I went to Jerome Stueart's bizarre reading of a portion of his "Lemmings in the Third Year" short story, it's about some lemmings doing a scientific study of an owl in their territory and their fatalistic-come-suicidal ethology/ethnography. He left us hanging off a cliff. But I bought his book, so once I'm done savoring the suspense, I'll finish the story.

I had lunch and then attended Fran Wilde's presentation on human self-powered winged flight. A surprising number of people killed or crippled themselves in this pursuit over the centuries, though one or two had some degree of success only to get shunned by their rulers. I'm also looking forward to reading her fantasy novel that includes this subject, "Updraft".

I listened to the Guest of Honor talk by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. He has written a lot of books. I haven't read any of them and I'm not yet in a rush to do so, though he is obviously quite popular it just doesn't seem quite my cup of noodles.

I attended an author reading by Ellen Kushner and a panel on "A Golden Age of Contemporary Asian Fantasy" wherein all the panelists were of Asian decent but none published in an Asian language or had even lived all that long in an Asian country. Panelists included Brenda Clough, Amal El Mohtar, and Mimi Mondal. I took no notes, though the discussion was interesting if not particularly memorable.

The "Mass Signing" rounded out the day. Dozens of authors set up in the ballroom and signed (and sold) their books. Larry Hodges signed "Campaign 2100" for me and we decided that we could most definitely defeat any other duo at the convention in a doubles table tennis match. (Larry is a national champion and I am a state champion in the sport, and between us we know most of the players at that level and none of them are this involved in fantasy genre books.) Later he signed "The Spirit of Pong" for me. I also chatted here a bit with David Boop about "weird" and short stories and bought an anthology, "The Weird South" from him that contains one of his stories. I'm enjoying all the stories in the book quite a lot. L.E. Modesitt signed two of his books that had been included as part of the convention package for me, "Imager" and "The Magic of Recluce".

Heavy hors d'oeuvres were served in the lobby outside the ballroom which made a lovely dinner for me, especially when topped off by a brownie from the dessert table and a cup of hot chocolate in lieu of coffee. I don't drink coffee, but the rich, warm beverage hit the spot and I trundled off to my room.

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Saturday, November 19, 2016

WFC Not To Be Confused With WTF

For some people it was a long flight, and I'm sure their arms were very tired (or their legs were broken, if so, they should have seen Fran Wilde's presentation "Man Made Wings in Fantasy and Fact" before attempting self-powered flight -- I bought her book Updraft), but for me it was a long drive. So I traveled on Wednesday though the convention started Thursday afternoon. My back was stiff but I played table tennis at the Columbus club before going to the Hyatt hotel Wednesday night.

The fun started with my first panel, where Peter Wacks was a bit wacky as Eric Flint (or was he S.M. Stirling?), who was running late. It was on alternate history and beyond Peter I was impressed by David Boop and Alan Smale, I later bought their books and had them sign them for me. Jim Minz and Elizabeth Crowens rounded out the panel. Alan referenced Tolkien and the theory of "the second belief": Readers will go along with one whopper but not a second one, even if it's smaller. And we also learned: "get your reality right if you want readers to believe your fantasy." (Smale's current book is "Clash of Eagles", an alternate history about Romans invading North America while it's still just Native Americans here. I'm looking forward to it.

As part of joining the convention attendees were given a passel of books. The hope of course is that we'll read the authors and get hooked and hook our friends. I'll definitely read a couple, but others I'll surely never get to.

"Fantasy of the American Heartland" was next with Gary K. Wolfe (erudite), Karen Kovenmyer, Rob Howell, Lynne Cantwell and Stephanie Loree. They talked about everything from native American creation myths to Tom Sawyer to American Gods. Sometimes sheer belief will make fantastic a reality was a theme: Field of Dreams.

During "Costume Makes the Character" with Delia Sherman, Madeleine Robbins, Cinda Chima, Mercedes Lackey and David Levine (his Arabella of Mars sounds interesting) we heard that a POV character noticing garments of certain other characters is an indication of how interested they are in that character. And that characters are affected by the clothes they wear, e.g. shoes impact gait, stance, self-perception. Other garments impact interaction: weapons to a hijab. Describe details when needed but leave room for the reader, too.

As we settled into our seats for the "Fantasy Writer-Artist" panel, a young man turned to me from the row in front of me and asked if I would sign his book. I was just about to tell him he must have the wrong person when he handed me a copy of "Rocket Dragons Ignite," the second anthology from Daily Science Fiction, in which I do indeed have a printed story. I was happy to sign for him, my first such request from someone that I wasn't already friends with. Thank you, Alec.

This panel included Jerome Stueart, Charles Vess (of Neil Gaiman collaboration fame), Sally Grotta, Brenda Carre and Seth Lindberg. Sally told us that we "Need to know where the light is shining onto a painting. Need to know that too for your narrative." Also that Jerome would draw a custom beast for you over in the vendor area where he was selling his new book "The Angels of our Better Beasts". I had him draw a carnivorous goose munching on bees, beetles and crawfish. Another day I went to his reading where he read from a wild story about lemmings that I am savoring finishing after I plow through a couple other books in progress. And that Charles Vess is doing a series of drawings for Ursula K LeGuin's Earthsea books and that he had sketches on display in the vendor room. They are very cool.

Before calling it a night I went to the Open Mic Poetry Reading session. Heard some interesting stuff, the limericks were the sharpest (and dirtiest). I didn't read.

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Billiards with Eagle

Tuesday after work I was shooting billiards down in the gaming area of Building 305 with my friend and coworker Pete. I may have been winning, but it was Pete's turn when I noticed out the floor-to-ceiling windows a large bird flapping slowly over Interlake, maybe 30 yards out. It was getting dusky, about 5:40 PM. There had been dozens of Canada geese around the last couple weeks but I immediately noticed the wingspan was too big and the cadence too slow for any goose. It was too bulky for a great blue heron, unless the heron had a dark brown or black fur  coat on. Then I could make out the tail: white, and as it turned left, twisting its body against those large wings, I could see a white head. Yep, bald eagle over Interlake. It's been 8 years, almost to the day, since I saw the one a mile or so away at Lady Anne Lake, It continued the powerful wingbeats up the south bank and I thought it would land in the top of the taller tree there, but it veered further left and out of my sight line toward the south east. Magnificent to see such a work of nature here once again. They are making a slow comeback in these parts. I still don't remember whether I won or lost the billiards game.

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Sunday, September 20, 2015

GenCon 2015 Part 5: I Am Nailed to the Hull

Part 5: "I am nailed to the hull"

My final scheduled event on Saturday, August 1, 2015 was "Special Event: Writing Excuses Podcast Recording LIVE!"

 This is the second time I've had the good fortune to attend Writing Excuses recording sessions. The first was at the inaugural "Out of Excuses Retreat" in 2013. If you get the chance I highly recommend it -- you get to hear the information and feel like an insider at the same time. (I also had the chance to listen to Cory Doctorow doing some of his "With a Little Help from my Friends" recordings live at WorldCon 2009 in Montreal -- again you feel like a real insider. That one featured Neil Gaiman in the role of "friend" so was doubly special.)

 Only Dan Wells and Howard Tayler were at GenCon this year so they pulled in multiple guests from the Con to record the several episodes. These are starting to show up now in the podcast stream, for example the September 13 episode is "Being a Good Panelist and a Great Moderator, with Susan J. Morris and Marc Tassin"

 By the way, Marc Tassin is the director GenCon Writer's Symposium and does a great job -- you will see him in and around the seminar rooms all the time keeping things running smoothly. He also has a great speaking voice so listen for that.

 A handful of us retreat alums also got to help out in a couple ways, either facilitating the audience microphone during the Q&A episode or packing up some of the recording equipment after the session. We then got to go to dinner with The Dan Wells at California Pizza Kitchen where we toasted the event and each other with maraschino cherries. The folks at CA PK were very gracious.


 I had a couple regular sessions ticketed for late Sunday morning but I see I took no notes from those. I'm not even sure I went to the final one. Sunday morning's first event had drawn my full attention: "Read & Critique".

I've read my work in public before: critique groups, open mike nights, and such -- but never in front of a panel of pro authors for the express purpose of telling me what's wrong with it. And in front of a (small) group of other aspiring writers to boot. I assure it gives one pause.

 There were about 24 of us writers that were there to be judged, split into 3 different rooms with 3 different panels of young but well-published authors. You want your work to be well received but you know that you need the negatives, too, however hard it may be to hear.

We are there to get better, for us this is A BIG DEAL. And most of us are sensitive.

 So I prepared a couple of possible things to read -- one fairly safe and one that I felt good about but that needs to be better, and I showed up. The moderator for my session was strict. Disciplined. We readers drew numbers for order. I think I was number 5 of 8. Three minutes only to read. The moderator commanded stop -- mid-sentence or not -- and we stopped. You can read only about two pages in this amount of time. Not much! Then each of the four critics provided a couple minutes of feedback -- with no commentary from the reader. As promised they served up mostly "crap sandwiches": something good then some bad things and then something good again.

 I chose to read my piece that needs work. The first author said some nice things then thought the tone of a metaphor I used was a bit off. The fourth author also noted the metaphor, but felt quite strongly that it was well done. Which just goes to show that there are no absolutes.

Due to the rigor of the timekeeping we had about 15 minutes left for questions and answers at the end. I kept quiet, content with the mix of praise, "I'd keep reading if I was a slush reader", and pointers for improvement, but one reader was quite upset -- she felt she hadn't read far enough to assuage some of the criticisms and she asked her questions and made her points through her tears. "Ignore these," she said, "I just get emotional but I want to know." And she soldiered on with her questions.

 I talked to participants in other sessions -- mine was not the only one with tears. We are better for the experience, I'm almost certain of it.

Some of us made one last trip to the dealer room. I wanted to buy a souvenir, something with "GenCon" on it. The T-Shirts were expensive and I'd been eyeing the gamer mats. These look like oversized dinner placemats but they are padded and soft and typically have gorgeous fantasy artwork printed on them. I settled on one with the show's signature art, the ship and three fantasy people despite them looking a bit "uncanny valley" to me. But the one I really wanted was more expensive and luscious: it featured Sandara's "A Party of Cats 2". Now I've got non-buyer's remorse.  Maybe next year.

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Friday, September 11, 2015

GenCon 2015 Part 4: Saturday, in which I finally play a game

Part 4: Saturday, in which I finally play a game

Panel, what, 12? Sheesh.

Character Voice with Steve Drew, Kameron Hurley, Brad Beaulieu, Jay Posey, Aaron Rosenberg

Yes, some of the panel topics overlapped a bit. I'll try not to overlap the notes.

1)      Read your/other authors' dialog without the tags/actions. Can you differentiate who is speaking?

2)      Treat characters with dignity (Do your research)

3)      There is a lot of current concern about being politically correct and not appropriating  culture inappropriately. If you are wondering exactly what that means, don't feel alone. But treat it cultures with more respect than Hollywood gave Native Americans in most earlier westerns and you'll be ahead of Hollywood, if that gives you any solace.

4)      Empathy. Each character is the hero of their own story, we just don't know how long they intersect this story.

5)      Add body language, habits to build character/voice.

6)      Okay to vary POV distance, e.g. when noticing details or doing internal monologue use some voice/idioms but when doing more expository description use less character voice.

Panel Next (that which is skipped when numbering hotel floors): What Makes a Character a Hero (Kerrie Hughes, Steven Long, Sam Sykes, Patrick fills-a-room Rothfuss)

This was Rothfuss' first panel and he brought the attendees in from the gaming tables, the room was more full than any of the prior writing sessions I'd attended. And with good reason, he pontificates well and entertainingly.


1)      Consistent moral core - line in the sand; let them bend, evolve but not cross/break

2)      Homer Simpson centers on Marge

3)      Good guys are heroes. The Greeks had great mean who fell due to a flaw, typically hubris

4)      (Considerable discussion of Superman/Lex Luther then Batman, Rob Roy, Harry Dresden (Jim Butcher) and Ned Stark (Game of Thrones)

5)      Need people to interact with or there is no story

6)      Need to have suffered an indignity

7)      Bathos - humor that undercuts tension

8)      Identification with a hero needs to be emotional

9)      Earnestness is easy to identify with: Han Solo and Luke Skywalker

I spent some more time on the dealer floor, I hadn't covered half of it yesterday. I saw some nice hardwood dice towers -- too expensive for me but I might try to build one, someday. Best I saw for the price were from Geek Chic Furniture (lots of great stuff, not cheap by any nuance of the word). The Cadillac of dice towers were on display from Wyrmwood, in your choice of seventy different woods.

I finally played a game!  I played "Code Names" from Czech Games. It's a more literary "Guess Who?" The fellow manning the booth explained the rules and then he and I played against a father and son that had also been watching the previous patrons play. It was pre-release -- they sold out several hundred beta copies, gone first day of the show -- but should be out about now, sometime in September, 2015. I plan to get one.

Fresh from my fun with Code Names I played another game at the Steve Jackson Games booth. They had "Mars Attacks: the Dice Game" set up for demo so even though I'm not a fan of Mars Attacks, I played a round of that. It was fun -- typically the only dice based games I play are Yahtzee and 10,000, but this was engaging without much mental challenge. After that it was time for the Guest of Honor session.

I was a bit uncertain about seeing GoH Terry Brooks, author of The Sword of Shannara. I read that book back in 1977 and it was clearly good but I couldn't get past the hubris or mimicry vis a vis J.R.R. Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings. I wasn't the only one. Turns out Mr. Brooks is insightful and delightful and understands the burden with which he has been saddled. He answered questions from the 200+ person audience about the dozens of books that he has written and then they showed the MTV trailer from the forthcoming series The Shannara Chronicles (January, 2016) which starts with the second book, The Elfstones of Shannara. He then answered audience questions on that. I'll be interested to watch some of that. I'm reading the book now. In fact, I got a free copy and had Terry Brooks sign it on Sunday morning and I got a chance to apologize for not reading more of his work over the past 37 years. He was very gracious.

Panel 14: Character: Worthy Opponents (Elizabeth Vaughan, Matt Forbeck, Christopher Rowe, Geoffrey Girard, Terry Brooks)

Girard sat next to Brooks and was clearly in a bit of awe, especially as the panel introduced themselves; Girard has essentially one novel (and lots of short stories), while Brooks has dozens and a major TV deal, etc. Fun to see, both were good natured.


1)      Need to balance villains against protags

2)      Try to understand the motivations of your villains

3)      Christopher Rowe: "I don't like The Joker. I don't even like Heath Ledger's Joker. How about that?" (This is going out on limb, deriding a famous bat-villain with this audience, especially the version played by a favorite son actor, deceased no less.) I believe Mr. Rowe was saying he wasn't believable, all persona and no depth.

Panel 15: Supporting Characters (Maxwell Drake, Elizabeth Vaughan, Geoffrey Girard, Terry Brooks)


1)      Ask tertiary characters: What do you want from this scene? - Maxwell Drake

2)      "Plot drives everything." - Terry Brooks (the observant reader will not that this does not well align with an assertion in an earlier panel that plot is there to facilitate the characters, give them something to arc against)

3)      Have love and hate in every chapter

4)      Sometimes supporting characters can show up the main character -- builds character.

There was one more event for me (well, two, if you count out to dinner, which I do in this case) on Saturday, but I'm tired now and want to go, so I'll lump that into Sunday. TTFN.

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Monday, September 07, 2015

GenCon 2015 Part 3 TGIF, with other acronyms to come

Part 3 TGIF, with other acronyms to come

(Before I forget, as I know some of this may border on tedium, you won't want to miss the final installment in this series detailing the events of Sunday morning wherein I undergo the most difficult moments of my writing endeavors thus far: a professional writing critique.)

TGIF ! Not really. I was on vacation, it was all good. I used Park Whiz to reserve parking in advance. I picked 3 different lots at an average cost of $6.00 per day. My favorite lot was at 323 W Michigan St, it was small, flat and had a row of trees along one side so I could park and have shade on my car in the afternoon. It was an easy 12 minute walk, three-quarters of a mile, to the convention center past the state capitol building and the Hyatt Regency.

Panel 7

Friday's sessions started for me at 9:00 am with Writer's Craft 101 (Steve Drew, Geoffrey Girard, Josh Vogt, Jason Schmetzer, Kameron "We Have Always Fought" Hurley)

Oh, I stayed out by the airport at the Baymont Inn and Suites. Nothing to write home about, so I didn't. But breakfast was passable and it was an easy 18 minute drive to downtown. Hotel costs remain the biggest burden at these events, $92 per night for 4 nights pushed it well over $400. Best if you have a roomie.

Josh Vogt is a good example of one of the authors writing tie-in novels for RPG developers like Privateer Press and Paizo, as well as his own stuff such as "Enter the Janitor" which sounds a bit like Ghost Busters, but I could be way off. Anyway I had a good convo with Josh on the dealer floor later at one of the game companies booths about how he got his stuff marketed.


1)      Steve Drew: "There's no leveling up in a writing career." It was a good quip but they each then shared an anecdote of how they had, actually, leveled up through various actions, e.g. attending a writing workshop, joining a key critique group, etc.

2)      Jay Lake: "Do not start a new project until you finish the one you're on." (First pass, anyways.)

3)      Authors tend to be authority averse -- writing selects for that.

4)      Persistence

5)      How to do dialog? Do multiple stuff at once: authentic, tension, information, character -- do not write it the way people actually speak: b-o-r-i-n-g.

6)      Read dialog aloud though to see if it rings true, but remember the end of the above note.

7)      See Elmore Leonard for dialog

8)      Read movie scripts -- most are available on the web

9)      Recommended: David Mammot (Glengarry Glen Ross)

10)   Recommended: Rachel Aaron: "2,000 to 10,000"

11)   30 second fantasy editing: check a) character motivations b) Inconsistencies c) swords

Panel 8

Character Craft: Motivation and Obstacles

(Howard Taylor, Elizabeth Bear, Gwenda Bond, John Howard Jacobs, Lauren M Roy)

My first session with Howard! But he was moderating so he mostly tried to stay out of the others' way. He's a good moderator like that, but it doesn't let his wit shine through. There was later for that.

I think this is where I first ran into fellow Writing Excuses "Out of Excuses Retreat" 2013 alumni Christy, Alissa, Scott, and Kendra-who-goes-by-Kenny. Twas good to share with them again.


1)      Make them want something -- then take it away.

2)      What's their worldview?

3)      Remember the old standards: man vs. man; man vs. nature; man vs. self

4)      Strip away character until essence exposed

5)      Revenge is a strong motivator; regret is not.

6)      Connections: Mad Max to dog, then to feral boy

7)      Training montage / flashback to build competence quotient

8)      Use other character reactions to main character actions to build competence

9)      Build empathy in dialog by mentioning similar experiences

10)   Put two things in front of character and make them choose -- need to be consequences; sometimes needs to come out negative

11)   "When in doubt have a man enter through the door with a gun." - Raymond Chandler

12)   The two-year-old's question: "Why?", "Why?"

Panel 9

Dialogue and Dialogue Tags

(Kerrie L Hughes, Robin D Laws, Elizabeth Bear, Chris Jackson)


1)      On tags: inclined to leave them in for a novel but take out as many as possible in a short story.

2)      "No, are you certain?" The water glass was cool in her hand.

3)      Long back and forth should have a certain amount of tags.

4)      Remove 75% of "nodded" and ilk (smiled, grinned, etc.)

I actually scheduled myself a break in here for lunch. Was hungry. Also I had signed up for the "Foam Fighting Arena" but the weapons were heavy and my wrist and arm were sore and I was gonna feel silly, which was wrong. The folks competing were having a grand time and it was clearly definable as "research". Sigh.

I did wander around the Dealers Floor for a couple hours. It is huge. Hundreds of game manufacturers, collectibles dealers, furniture makers, and an authors and artists section. Everything is set up for easy interaction with the folks manning the booths. You can easily chat with game creators, science fiction authors and fantasy artists. And in most cases buy their wares. They also had scheduled autograph signings, mostly authors but I saw Summer Glau (from the Firefly franchise, etc.) signing for a couple of hours and was very cordial with all the fans that I saw her interact with.

Panel 10 (Not actually a panel)

My final scheduled writing session on Friday was a paid session with Michael Stackpole. This was him giving his prepared class on characterization and while there was a lot of useful information the tone was much more commercial than the panels and other sessions that I attended. You won't find this information on his website since, as he noted, he makes a portion of his living this way; and so I won't include it here for the most part. Maybe just a tidbit or four:

1)      Plot is a way to facilitate characters

2)      Convey info through characters, e.g. one says "All the trolls we've ever come across are eight feet tall."

3)      Sometimes it's okay to do blitzkrieg characterization: George was always well dressed and sang along with the choir but you never wanted to trust him with the collection plate.

4)      Roger Zelazney: "A short story is the last chapter of a novel that you haven't written." Get in. Define. Get out.

Panel 11

I hadn't pre-registered but there was a late panel called Advanced Kickstarter, not that I ever intend to run a Kickstarter campaign but Howard Tayler was on it and not as the moderator so I stayed to get a little dose of Howard. Rest of the panel: Susan Morris, Michael Sullivan, Brad Beaullieu, Stephen Hood.

I didn't take many notes, but these things, done well, are a ton of work. Clearly you would want to use the tools:,, etc.

I did ask a question about setting the goal, e.g. is there a formula that if you know you have X number of fanatic fans and Y number of more casual fans that you could expect X*m + Y*n + C ? I think it was a bit too much math to get across verbally, especially this late in the day, but it did spark a discussion of how indispensable a good Excel spreadsheet can be.

A pleasant evening walk back to my car and then I hit Kroger from some fruits and veggies for dinner; oh, and cookies; some for Saturday, too.

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