Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Vampire Assaults With Google Maps

I recently had to go back and write a new chapter one for The Blood of Mars. This made the previous chapter two into chapter three, while the previous chapter three melted into the new chapter two. Confused? Yeah. Sometimes I just have to go get a PB&J and hope I got it right.

So I'm making the 'clickity-klack,' typing away, when I realize I need to know my exact location in Belfast, Ireland. Locals get snippy if you don't get your facts right, so in order to stay true to the emerald isle, I whip open Google maps and find the streets I need. But you know what's cool?

Scene for the Vampire Assault at Chichester and Seymour
Google Maps has a feature called Street View. Some of you more experienced users already know this (and to tell the truth I've seen it before too), but I was looking for street names and accidentally zoomed in one time too many.

Suddenly I was on the corner of Chichester and Seymour streets in Belfast. By looking around and moving up and down the street, I discovered the perfect place for a scene in my story.

The sixteen year old protagonist, walking along Chichester to his first blood donation, crosses Seymour street and sees a newborn vamp, down by the street light, taking a bite of the local flavor. Can you see it? I could! For the next two hours I was totally submerged in the streets of Belfast.

When I looked up at the clock afterwards, I was blown away at the time. True, I'd managed to crank out almost eight pages. But the writing just flowed through me. All because I could experience a city that I've never seen.

At Dave Farland's Writers Death Camp, I talked with Dave about how writers today really don't have to have the reference library that they did twenty to thirty years ago. The internet has made so much information available online, that, for instance, you don't have to pay $200 for a comprehensive world atlas.

So, I got thinking about all the sites on the internet that writers have today that they didn't have twenty years ago. Here's a sampling of some of my favorites.

Atlas Obscura - A Compendium of the World's Wonders, Curiosities and Esoterica
Forensics4Fiction - Great Forensics for a Writer
Google Maps - World Maps
Dictionary.Com - Great Online Dictionary & Thesaurus
Urban Dictionary - Random Information and Slang
Behind the Name - Information on Names
Baby Names - Information on Names
Google Translate - Online Translator
Write or Die - Writing Productivity Motivator (For online use or purchase)
Funny Mean Names - Mean Name Generator

As with most things online, some of these sites should be taken with a grain of salt. Remember, it never hurts to check your sources.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Strolling With The Stars

Helping Jordan Stalk Lou Anders
Photo: Shaun Farrell
Saturday promised to be an epic day for Worldcon. Another writing group member, Harrison Paul,  cruised over from California to join us, bringing our 'Dave Farland's Writer's Death Camp' group to five. Several good panels were lined up for that day and the Hugo award ceremony that night promised to be epic.

So Saturday morning, my buddy Jordan decides he wants to go do the Stroll With The Stars to chat with Lou Anders. I thought it sounded like a lot of fun because Lou is so awesome.

We get to the Walgreens parking lot and hang around with all the Worldcon attendees and about ten minutes later Lou arrives. Jordan and I manage to be the first to chat with him. A little bit later, I got to talk to artist Bill Willingham and Jordan kept talking with Lou.

Bill Willingham's early career saw a lot of work with TSR on AD&D material (which I totally played). Growing up, I spent so much time admiring his work in White Plume Mountain and The Isle of Dread, without ever knowing who he was, that I'm pretty sure I was suppose to name a kid after him. (Sorry Bill!) Most recently he's been working with DC Comics.

Anyway, the stroll begins and I'm enjoying the walk, when I hear Jordan talking to someone behind me. In a couple seconds, I spin around realizing Jordan is talking to Shaun Farrell, the host of one of my favorite podcasts, Adventures In Sci-Fi Publishing!

Author Kay Kenyon and Author/Podcaster Shaun Farrell
Photo: Shaun Farrell
Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing is one of the best, if not the best, podcast available for the writing craft and industry. Their author interviews are awesome and with the publishing industry changing as much as it has in recent years, it's a great source for news.

We'd hoped to see Shaun Farrell at Worldcon, but didn't have a clue how to meet him. Fortunately, Shaun is just as nice as he sounds on the show. Jordan and I spent the entire stroll monopolizing his time by chatting about his podcast and writing. And to prove he's so awesome, he invited us to be on the show and hang out with him after the Hugos!

The Stroll With The Stars on Saturday was amazing and I wish I'd had more time to go the other days. But if I had, I wouldn't have been able to get in line to sign up for the amazing kaffeeklatches on the other days. If anything, there are so many amazing opportunities at Worldcon that you're forced to pick and choose your favorites. There's simple too much to do. But you can be sure that, with all there is to do, even if you do hit a dud panel, simply walking and talking with the stars can bring you ultra success.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Price of Admission

Rare books for sale at Worldcon
As I wandered from booth to booth in the dealers room at Worldcon, I was amazed how many bookstores were peddling their wares. In fact, the majority of the shops were either selling books, t-shirts, or jewelry.

But the first thing to attract my eye as I entered the dealers area, was a small wood case with a glass front displaying little paperback books in plastic bags. Well, I'm an old comic book collector, so I knew that clear plastic bags over old things means you are trying to protect whatever is in the bag. The older or more rare the item, the higher the price.

Interested in seeing what old books they had and how much they were going for, I stepped up to the case and perused the books. My eyes goggled...

Orgy of the Dead Selling for $450.00
These books were hundreds of dollars! The most expensive was an unsigned copy of Orgy of the Dead (Movie Now Showing... You'll notice they didn't say, 'Now A Major Motion Picture'), selling for a whopping $450.00. This really got me thinking about book prices and the value of books.
World's Most Expensive Books - Leonardo Da Vinci's Codex Leicester
Codex Leicester

With a little research I learned that, at auction, a first edition of J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye can go for up to $5,000 while a signed UK edition of J.R.R. Tolkien's, The Hobbit, sold for $10,400. But neither of those can hold a candle to the $30.8 million that Microsoft founder, Bill Gates paid for Leonardo Da Vinci's Codex Leicester. Granted, the Codex Leicester was hand written by Da Vinci himself and only had a print run of... well... one.

Darkness, My Old Friend: A NovelBut what are we paying for new books? I just picked up Lisa Unger's latest release, Darkness, My Old Friend. It's selling for $13.33 on Amazon, with a suggested retail price of $24.00. On the kindle, you can pick it up for $11.99. But is it worth it? Of course it is! I've enjoyed Lisa's stories since I first picked up her fourth book, Die For You. Another one of her stories, Black Out was an intense psychological thriller while her, Fragile was just as intense. When I saw the title for her new book, I knew this one was going to be just as sweet as pie and pre-ordered it (the e-reader giveaway on her Facebook page just sweetened the deal).

Looking at all these books and the prices for them made be realize one thing. When it comes right down to it, when we really love an authors work, we'll pay almost any price to have it. For example, when I finished books one and two of the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins (both of which I checked out at the library), I couldn't wait for the third to become available (two month wait), so I ran out and bought it. And really, when you trust an author's work and enjoy their storytelling style, regardless of cost, you'll pay the price of admission.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

All That Swag

The Iron Throne Desk Chair
Any pirate loves his booty, so believe me, when I went to the Angry Robot panel at Worldcon and Lee Harris offered a pile of books up to the combined geek horde, I squealed like a little girl and hustled to the front of the room. I managed to snag one the copies of 'Slights' by Kaaron Warren based on the fact that it's suppose to be super scarey.

Thus started the geek in me looking for all that fan boy stuff.
Damn you, Lee Harris. (Call me!)

In addition to the initial Angry Robot swag, I managed to pick up three more books (one of them the Hugo nominated Feed, put out by Orbit Books), a bumper sticker, a t-shirt, a handout on blood splatter, publisher buttons and buttons from Game of Thrones on HBO. And don't even get me started on all the free munchies in the con suite.

Now, I really went to Worldcon to work. Wanting to be a published author, I needed to network with editors and agents who could help me learn how to get published. I had a stack of business cards and a limited time to meet everyone I could, so I really couldn't spend a lot of time dilly-dallying on the fun stuff. But the people and things I did get to see, really made me geek out.

For instance, when we first walked in to register for the convention, we passed the food court. Sitting at one of the tables, right out in the open, was George R.R. Martin. Currently the most popular Fantasy writer in the market, I've read most of his stuff and find his work and career fascinating. Needless to say I was poking my friend and saying, "Dude! George Martin!"

There were other authors there whose work I enjoy, such as Dan Wells, Larry Correia and Howard Taylor. I even got to see Brandon Sanderson for the first time in the flesh (I was beginning to think he was the great white buffalo).

And lets not forget the man who shaped my sense of humor, Dr. Demento. Who would I be as an adult if I hadn't grow up with the Monster Mash or They're Coming To Take Me Away? Would I even have been nominated for class clown in high school if I hadn't heard Fish Heads or Dead Puppies?

So what I learned was that sometimes, even when you're crazy-busy with work, you have to take a moment and enjoy the things that make you who you are. That little burst of joy often may be the only thing that helps you get through another day.

And as Jimmy Durante sang,
"Don't you know that it's worth
Every treasure on earth
To be young at heart?
For, as rich as you are,
It's much better by far
To be young at heart
And, if you should survive
To a hundred and five,
Look at all you'll derive
Just by being alive!
Now, here is the best part:
You have a head start
If you are amongst the very young...
At heart"

Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash. Wherever you are.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Kaffeeklatsch... God Bless You!

Susan Chang at Tor's Room Party
The first thing Worldcon introduced me to is the Kaffeeklatsch. I know, I know... sounds kinda like a rude explicative, right? But kaffeeklatsch is brought to us from those wacky Germans, who also gave us Schadenfreude, and actually means coffee gossip.

Unlike the Literary Beer where you could share a brew (or any beverage) with the author, editor, artist, or agent of your choice, kaffeclatsch just lets you share a chat--sans any libations. Well... okay... the four editors I sat with were provided beverages by the Worldcon hosts.

While there were so many people we wanted to talk with, the three editors my writing group and I were most interested in meeting were: 
We also had a Literary Beer session (I think he actually had a Coke) with:
David Hartwell - Tor Books Senior Editor 

Three of our group at Worldcon (myself included) are in various stages of completion on YA (Young Adult) novels, so Susan Chang was someone we really wanted to meet. Since she's the only YA editor with Tor, I'm sure she's regularly bombarded with requests and questions. But taking it all in stride, she was very cordial and offered excellent advice for everyone at the table. She let us all give her our pitches and commented on the elements that most interested her. And, hey, she let a Tor fan boy and hopeful Tor author take a photo with her, so you know she's cool!

Lou Anders' energy was undeniable. I'm pretty sure his enthusiasm for the publishing industry could power Rhode Island if not the entire Eastern Seaboard. After hearing him in the Pyr Books presentation, I was dying to meet him and seeing little Pyr logos on the spines of my books. Super nice and very approachable, he also deserves a big, "Congrats!" for winning this years Hugo award for Best Editor, Long Form. Pyr's YA books have awesome covers too!

Lee Harris is a man I would love to work with. A genuinely nice guy who cares about his author's interests, Lee's work at Angry Robot is enough to make any writer sit up and take notice. Although he said they are currently not looking for YA titles, he did say to, "watch this space," giving me hope that one day he'll have one of my submissions on his desk. And when it really comes down to it, my YA may skirt the line a little like Dan Wells.

It would have been great to meet the legendary Tom Doherty and chat more with some of the other editors that came to Worldcon, but time was short and I'm a bit of a chicken. Besides, I'm pretty happy with having talked with the top three power houses I'd ultimately love to work with.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Road to Reno

I-80 Across Nevada - Photo:John Cook
Worldcon was a lot of fun, but why is it that when you're driving home from a trip, it seems to take twice as long? And I just have to say, the scenery on the I-80 drive across Nevada is not very picturesque.

I'm pretty sure if Kirk and Spock beamed down there, finding neither Orion slave girls or tomes of knowledge, they'd beam right back up. Endless yellow grass on brown hills for hours on end makes for a looonng drive. More so on the ride home.

Fortunately, my writing group amused ourselves with discussions of the finer points of literature and writing, including two hours of character development where we asked and answered questions about our characters.

For those of you who don't write, think of a character you've read and ask how that character would answer these questions. Here are some of the sample questions:

  • Justice or mercy? Why?
  • If you could spend a year in another country, where would you pick and why?
  • With unlimited expenses, what type of party would you throw and why?
  • Is art or science more important to humanity?
  • If you could be brilliant and ugly or gorgeous with a mediocre intelligence, which would you choose and why?
  • Do you believe in fate?
  • If you could spend a day with anyone, living or dead, who would it be? Why?
  • Is the male or female form more beautiful?
  • What animal best matches your personality? Why?
  • What is your favorite scent?
  • Is kindness or courage more admirable?
  • What will your world be like in twenty years?

The discussion was great and gave me some nice ideas for deepening my characters. Since the questions were for a game designed to help people get to know each other, they helped me learn more about my characters and, oddly enough, myself.

I'll post more this week on the experiences I had and the awesome people I met. And if I can figure out how to attach audio files to my blog, I'll even post some of the panel discussions from Worldcon. But right now, I have to get my daily word count in.

And a nap... I never sleep well away from home.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Into The Great Wide Open

     Tom Petty has been on my mind the last couple of weeks.

     Near the end of July, I celebrated my birthday. Yeah, so everybody gets them, but here in Utah, July 24th is also a state holiday. Imagine a second Independence Day and you'll get the picture. Since I'm a Leo, my birthday feels doubly like it's all about me (even though the older I get, I'm less inclined to worry about them). I can sing Tom Petty's, "It's Good To Be King," all day.

          It's good to be king, if just for a while
          To be there in velvet, yeah, to give 'em a smile
          It's good to get high, and never come down
          It's good to be king of your own little town

          Yeah, the world would swing if I were king
          Can I help it if I still dream time to time

          It's good to be king and have your own way
          Get a feeling of peace at the end of the day
          And when your bulldog barks and your canary sings
          You're out there with winners, yeah, it's good to be king

     So with the parades, fireworks, and spending the weekend with our family, I had a great time. Of course at some point I had to come down, but on my birthday the world was a better place.

World Science Fiction Convention
     Except this year.

     This year I had my very first World Science Fiction Convention looming in August. My writing groups and I have been planning this week for at least the last five months. With less than a month to go, I began to panic.

     I didn't have the recommended business cards, web presence, and worst of all, I didn't have my rough draft any where near completion. As of the end of July I hadn't even started researching the agents and editors that were coming to the convention. With three weeks to go to a major networking opportunity, my chance to be, "out there with winners," was rapidly turning into that dream where you're naked in front of a crowd.

     So I knuckled down and started doing all the things I needed to get done, even though, like Sheriff Woody said, "This is the perfect time to panic!" My writing time suffered a little, but strangely enough, some of my current chapters are the best I've written.

     Now I'm two days away from hitting the road and talking to people I've never met. Part of me is screaming excited, while the other part is screaming terrified. I know I'll relax when I get there and that the most frightening step is the step out my front door. Right now I'm feeling the chorus from, "Into The Great Wide Open."

          Into the great wide open,
          Under them skies of blue
          Out in the great wide open,
          A rebel without a clue

     But to jazz myself up, I changed the next verse.

          The papers said Tony always wrote from the heart
          He got an agent and a roll top desk
          He made a novel and it went in the charts
          The sky was the limit

     Am I nervous now? I'd be lying if I said, 'no.' But even if I fall on my face and only make contacts with some nice people, I'll know better what to expect for the next convention. The World Horror Convention in Salt Lake City. My book will definitely be ready to pitch by then. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Character's Interview

    Most author's talk about the voices in their head. For me, I have to interview them before they'll talk to me. And, as with most interviews, sometimes the person takes a while to relax and open up.

    Dave Farland is the first person I heard suggest this technique in his November 2010 Writer's Death Camp. He suggested that when you need a character for a certain roll, have a casting call in your head and see who shows up. Say you need a mentor for your protagonist. Sometimes you'll get the three hundred pound biker to show up, sometimes the wizened old man. Ask them why they want the part and why they think they're a fit. Which one would be interesting in your story? Sure the wizened old man seems natural, but that biker living next door knows a thing or two also. He's seen a lot of life. You can't discount him just because he scares you.

    Unless of course, the old man has a Gran Torino. But I digress...

    I needed to create a best friend for my protagonist that initially he hates, but later comes to understand and respect. I needed him tough because he had to help the hero overcome the crap storm headed his way.

Actor Chris Penn - Hunter Inspiration
    So let me introduce you to a character who showed up to the casting call for my protagonist's best friend. Hunter Bullard is an Irish shipbuilder's son. Even at sixteen he's a rough and tough, muscle-bound brute. I'm not saying he's a moron, but he's comfortable with pounding things into submission. His merciless upbringing in the streets of Belfast, Ireland, isn't helped by the fact that his father beats him or that his brother literally tried to eat him. Hunter plays it tough, but I could tell that when it comes right down to it, he's a nice guy and a loyal friend.

    So I gave Hunter the part and soon discovered that he also has a serious weakness.

    His mouth has no filter.

    He'll just say whatever he's thinking no matter how insulting, crude, or demeaning it is. And usually, he's actually trying to be insulting. When his words initially splattered out of his mouth and onto my page, I sat staring at my monitor. Would Hunter really say that? Did I want someone like that in my book? The answer to both questions was, 'yes.'

    I'm not sure how my subconscious slipped this little character trait in. Normally this type of person drives me up a wall, but with Hunter, I'm almost dying to hear what he's going to say next. Yeah, he's rude and crude, but he thinks he's being funny. Hunter has survived a lot of really terrible things and its his sense of humor that got him through. It may be dark. It may be rude. But it makes it possible for him to get up every morning and that is exactly what he needs to teach my protagonist.

    So when you're thinking and reading about all those great characters, think about the annoying ones too. Sometimes its that annoying factor that makes them so memorable.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Writing Life

I'm a writer. One of my earliest memories was 'making' a newspaper for my mom to read. I'd carefully laid out the columns, including doodle photos in the right places, and filled in scribbles for text.
    When I proudly handed it to my mom, she smiled at my effort and said, "This looks great, but I can't read it. Why didn't you use words?"
    Well, words were hard for me then. I'd had difficulties learning what the black scribbles said Dick, Jane and Spot were doing (Spot was always my favorite). I was a little embarrassed, but my mom assured me that I could do it and that she would be excited to read it when I was done. So I went back out to the living room with a pen and a fresh sheet of paper.
    Unfortunately, I didn't have a lot to say. I wrote out a few articles, but soon realized that newspapers talk about a LOT of different things. After I exhausted my pool of stories, I ran out to play. Leaving my Evening Edition cooling on the presses. But writing continued haunting me. Stories were amazing things and tales like Call of the Wild and The White Indian Boy made me appreciate the true art of the storyteller.
    When I reached fifth grade, my teacher, Mrs. Funk, announced that we were going to have a Halloween writing contest. The winner won a graham cracker haunted house. Seeing the frosting alone was enough to give me a sugar rush. I worked hard on my story. Making it as scary as a child could. As far as I remember, this was also the only time I ever voluntarily stayed after school to work on homework. Just me and Mrs. Funk, quietly scribbling at our desks.
    One week later, not wanting to hurt anyone's feelings, she nervously announced the winner. As she called the winner's name I looked to see who was walking up to claim their prize, but everyone was looking at me. I still remember the shock and joy that my story had won, the giddy embarrassment as I walked to the front of the class to read my story for everyone, and the quiet pride as I carried home my victor's purse.
    For the next several years, I was continually blessed with teachers who sparked my love of reading and writing. They recognized the passion and kindly encouraged me, even though I rarely shared my stories with anyone because, as most authors, I felt what I wrote wasn't any good.
    Then life happened and I stuffed my desire to write under the bed. Beating it mercilessly if it ever popped its cheerful eyes out. I was a husband and father now. Writing didn't make any money, so I took it as a frivolous hobby that would have to wait for a much later time, if ever. Years later, when life pounded me to the ground and I felt like I had nothing left, the poem 'Laura and the Empty Tray' by Carol Lynn Pearson had new meaning.
          "What can you serve from an empty tray?
          How can you water plants from an empty pot?"
    Writing, for so long, had been my wellspring. In my quiet places, writing allowed me to give my thoughts voice. By giving it up and sacrificing all my needs for the needs of others, I allowed myself to run dry and become as useless as an empty pot.
    So... I'm a writer. Not because I want to make money (although that would be nice). But because writing makes me happy. And isn't that what life is all about?

Popular Posts