Category Archives: Ramblings

Word Counts…

I put out a call last week, asking for suggestions on what to do with this blog. I got one reply — in e-mail (WHY DOES NO-ONE EVER USE THE COMMENT FEATURE?!) — that suggested I treat the blog as a diary, and talk about what happens in my life. I pretty much do that, already… it’s just that there isn’t enough new material each week to make up a new blog every week, and I’d really like to TRY and keep this blog a weekly thing. So I’m still taking suggestions, if anyone has any.

It’s a good thing I don’t give people weekly (or worse, daily) word count updates. People would get really confused. For the first few weeks, I’d post about having written roughly 1k-2k words per day, which by the end of the third week would accelerate to 6-8k per day. My record is about 12k words in one day, though that was long before I went pro.

I’d top a hundred thousand words about the end of the sixth week… and still be going, since most of my books run about 150k words. Usually at 100k, I’d start slowing down, sometimes to a few mere hundreds of words per day.

For In Division Imperiled, however, it got even worse than that. I got to about 130k-140k, which I’d estimate is about 90% of the way done, about three months after I started. Which is what I told anyone who asked — the book was “90% done,” so hopefully it would be finished shortly. And I STILL HADN’T SLOWED DOWN. I was thinking I’d finish the book in a personal record time.

And then I started trying to knit all the parts of the story together for the conclusion, resolving all the sub-plots (at least, all of those which weren’t setting up something for the next book) for the end.

The story wasn’t stalled in the least. I seemed to be adding newer, better subplots in as I was deleting others, and I was making great progress on them. I was still going about 3-4k words per day… but I was pulling about 5-6k per day at the same time.

In other words, I was going backwards.

By the end of the sixth month, I was down to 110k words. That was the shortest it was cut to after hitting that 140k word plateau, but it wasn’t the last time it shrank. I was back to 140k a month later (this was back around August or so, when I was hoping to be finished in a week or two) when I finally gave up on one fairly massive sub-plot that was threaded throughout the book. One whole chapter, and several large partials, wound up being gutted from the book. I was back down to 115k words. That’s a fine length, if the story is complete, but the tear-out left a lot of gaping “holes” in the story that needed to be filled back in. My editor was expecting the book the same week I’d ripped out that subplot, and my writing speed had dropped back down to about 1k-2k. I was fortunate he allowed me to send him a partial manuscript he could work on while I finished. I’ve had a few other cuts since then, but nothing so drastic.

Earlier this week, I topped over the 140k plateau for the fourth time with this book… and I don’t think there are any subplots left that are likely to be ripped out, this time. I still figure about 150k will be the ultimate length. If I’m able to keep going at 1k-2k per day, I should FINALLY be done in a week or two… only three months late. *sigh*

LINKSHARES!

This week, we have a Halloween-themed linkshare!  Memories of the Abyss, by Cedar Sanderson, is a mystery thriller of novella length the author says is perfect for the season.

Also this week, Stephanie Osborn has released the eighth book of her space opera series, Division One, with Phantoms.

That’s it for this week. Happy reading!

Afterthoughts from Eat Local, Read Local

Well, my first dedicated book sale event was yesterday. It left me exhausted (or, well, perhaps a little dehydrated), but it was a good time. Weird internet issues today (wifi’s been spotty, Facebook has been acting up, and when I tried to go to Wikipedia earlier, I was somehow redirected to the Polish version of Wikipedia. I’ve never been to Polish Wikipedia, before, and have no idea how that happened) has made typing an extensive write-up… difficult, but here is a BRIEF summary of my thoughts in the aftermath:

  1.  It was an outdoor event, and advertised as “rain or shine.”  Rain and books don’t mix well, so I was happy to see that it wasn’t raining.  In fact, I dare to say it was the nicest day of the year, so far.
  2. Despite the good weather, the tent I was in had clearly been rained on over the past several days… and it was leaking.  I was a little hesitant about putting my books out for display on a table where dripping water had pooled.  I got the table moved so that it wouldn’t get dripped on as much, and dried it off, but the water was still dripping on my head any time the wind blew.  In order to minimize the risk of getting my books wet, I wasn’t quite able to set up my table the way I wanted.  I’m not sure what could be done to prepare for this sort of thing in future events, but I need to figure out something if I’m ever part of another outdoor book sale.  If anyone has any suggestions, I’d be glad to hear them.
  3. I went to this event last year, though as a customer and not as an author.  It was raining off and on that day, and foot traffic was moderate to light (I did not notice any wet author tables last year, but the whole thing was set up differently; tables were arranged differently, it was in a different part of the library grounds (their front parking lot instead of their rear parking lot), it was larger, etc.).  I was hoping that the better weather would result in better attendance, but foot traffic was about what I remember from last year.
  4. The Loudoun County Library’s Eat Local Read Local event took place simultaneously with the Fredricksburg Independent Book Festival, an almost identical event focused more on indie authors that was taking place about an hour’s drive away from my house (which means it was about an hour and a half’s drive, in the other direction, from the Eat Local Read Local).  I asked an author who was there what foot traffic was like, and was told it was “surprisingly light” there, as well.  At least in terms of total bodies coming to either event, the Eat Local Read Local was about on par.
  5. I did, in fact, sell a few books (not as many as my most optimistic hopes, but not as few as my more pessimistic imaginings), despite the light foot traffic.  I went through a lot of effort to ensure I could take credit cards (using Square), and got stickers and signs broadcasting that fact, but to my surprise everyone paid cash.  I’ll have to remember that if I do it again; I thought I was well prepared, but I almost ran out of spare change.
  6. We (authors) were all assigned to one of three tents, and provided with half of a table each (in other words, we were asked to share a table with someone else).  Our table-partners, with a few exceptions, were assigned alphabetically within each tent.  Just what criteria was used for tent assignment, however, was not clear to me — though I do know we weren’t grouped by alphabet, genre, publishing house, bestselling rank, or in order of when we applied to be part of the event.  Maybe it was random draw out of a hat?
  7. My table partner was an affable character who wrote literary works on school life.  He said he had been to events like this before and had never sold anything at them, but he thought he would give it ‘one more try.’  He then proceeded to spend about five minutes at the table before standing up and wandering off, checking out the other authors’ offerings, then came back for a bit before again wandering off to have a conversation with someone, then came back briefly, fussed with how his books were arranged on the table, and then left for a bit again.  He came back for one last time… to pack everything up and go home with the event half-way over.  I have to wonder if this was typical of his past attempts to sell books at these events, and if that is why he’s never sold anything at them before.
  8. Most authors only brought one or two different titles to sell to readers; I brought multiple copies of all six books that I have in print.  This might have been a mistake, considering I only had half of a table, and my books were a bit crowded together.  Combined with the need to arrange things so that my books were kept dry, I wasn’t able to display them all to their best effect.  My table partner leaving allowed me to spread out a bit, but if I do this event again I’ll have to be a bit more selective in what I bring.
  9. I made arrangements for my sister-in-law to show up half-way through the event (well, actually I’d arranged for my brother to do so, but he accidentally double-booked himself for that day, so she came instead) to take over my table so I would be able to get lunch.  My table-partner had already left by that point, so after buying lunch from one of the food trucks at the event, I took his seat and the two of us worked the table while I ate.  Having someone else there was a great help (though it would have been impossible to have someone with me from the start of the event, as there was normally only room for one person), even if we didn’t have any sales during the brief time she was there.
  10. I got lots of compliments on my book covers.  As an odd phenomenon, I had people taking pictures of my book covers, as well.  I thought maybe they were showrooming, but so far I haven’t seen any sales bumps among the books that were most commonly photographed.  I did see a slight bump in sales of The Merrimack Event in the immediate aftermath of the event, but I don’t remember anyone taking pictures of that book’s cover, so I don’t know if that’s connected at all.
  11. Everyone loved my little Fennec Fox Press stuffed fox-keychains, but no-one wanted to buy one.  I do give some of them away, but I can’t afford to give ALL of them away; I’m only charging the break-even price for them.  Ah, well… I’ve got them for next time, at least.

And… well, that’s all I can think to say at the moment.  No link-shares this week.  So, until next week, that’s it…

Plans for the Immediate Future…

As I’m getting ready for the Eat Local, Read Local event, I’m also finishing off the third Law of Swords book, In Division Imperiled (as I mentioned in the epilog of my last post). (Oh, and my birthday is this Thursday, but that’s unrelated to this post).  Trying to make everything happen at once hasn’t given me all that much time to think about my business plans beyond those few things, but in search of a topic for this week’s blog I spent some time thinking about it, anyway, and made a few decisions. I know this looks like another of my boring old status reports, but you will probably want to pay attention to this blog — I’ve made some important decisions,

To begin with, recapping what I mentioned last week, I’m going to need to find another cover artist soon as the cover for In Division Imperiled flunked with my test audience. I haven’t sent out any queries to any artists, yet, but I have identified a short list of people from varying levels of professional experience to try. Hopefully at least one of them will respond to my query and be willing to work within my budget (which, uh, I need to decide on, as I’ve already used my book cover budget on the flunked-out cover).  Will this delay In Division Imperiled’s release?  Probably not (though it depends how the cover art search goes).  But it may delay my marketing plan.  And to think — for once, I thought I was getting ahead of things by arranging for the cover art even before the book was over, and would be able to do a lot more pre-release marketing than I have in the past.  It’s a shame, but an unsatisfactory cover is… well, unsatisfactory.

Second, once the Eat Local, Read Local event is taken care of, I intend to see if I can’t get an actual store going on the Fennec Fox Press website to sell signed copies of my print editions. Given past print sales, I’m not expecting to do much business through said store, but since I’ve had the website for a while, I’ve got enough books to justify it, and now I’ve got the Square account to take credit cards, and soon (if I can just get the paperwork completed!) I’ll be able to take sales tax, there’s no reason NOT to open such a store.

I’m not sure whether I’ll have anything to offer other than my few books (and possibly some of the little plushie Fennec Fox keychains I was giving away at Ravencon, but I’m still undecided on that), but I might decide to do things like sell some used books, or help my mother sell some of her quilts (haven’t yet discussed this with her; I know she tries to sell some of her quilts off her own page, and I’m not sure how it would work), or maybe I would look into a deal with some of my author-friends to sell their books through my store (the big problem with trying to sell someone else’s work is the legal liabilities; I’d have to turn my little sole proprietorship into an LLC first, so I probably won’t be doing this to start with).  I’ll still have to work out the technical details, but I’m fairly certain I can manage a small web-based storefront, and at the very least all of my signed books will be made available on it.

Third, once BOTH the Eat Local, Read Local event AND the In Division Imperiled manuscripts are completed, I’ll use the library’s new sound recording studio that I surveyed a few weeks ago to begin turning A Gun For Shalla, my story in the Worlds Enough: Fantastic Defenders anthology, into an audiobook with myself as the narrator.  I don’t want this to prevent me from starting work on the next Shieldclads book, however, so I’ll be restricting myself to trying this experimental project just one day a week.

If it works out, then maybe I’ll also try the same thing with The Kitsune Stratagem (the book that I think Tantor, who produced the Merrimack Event audiobook, is the least likely to buy the rights to).  If THAT works out, and I can’t convince Tantor to do the audiobook for the Law of Swords books, maybe I’ll do those, too.  But, at one day a week (at most), that would put those books pretty far in the future, and this post is more for my immediate plans.

Finally… most of the previous things you might have caught in my previous blog posts, but this one I decided just as I was working on this blog:  If you are interesting in buying either of the Law of Swords books in ebook form somewhere OTHER than Amazon (such as through Kobo, Smashwords, or the Nook), you might want to buy them now.  When the rest of In Division Imperiled is off to the editor and I’m ready to start really marketing it, I am going to (experimentally) withdraw my previous books in the series from wide distribution, and see if I can’t put the whole series into the KDP select program for at least one enrollment period (90 days).

I’ve not done this in the past because I’ve found most of the technical issues reported with KDP Select (at least, most of the ones that don’t ultimately turn out to be the result of bad practices on the author’s part, or an author’s advertiser’s part) happen because the author took a book that is already in wide distribution out of wide distribution in order to meet the exclusivity requirement of KDP Select.  I haven’t heard about one of those particular issues in a while, though, so maybe they’ve been fixed?  And, in conjunction with the release of the third book, I think it might make a huge difference sales-wise.

I plan to return to wide distribution before too long, but I thought the same about The Merrimack Event, and the number of page reads I get in a month is STILL too high for me to pull it out of the program and try wider distribution.  Crossing my fingers that nothing goes wrong when I do it, though.

Link Shares!

Well, I’m still going to push for the Starflight 3 crowdfunding campaign.  It’s falling behind the pace it needs to set, but I’m hopeful some investors will come in at the end to save the campaign (which has been hinted, if they can get close), and in the meantime it could use your support.

But I do have actual books, this week.  First there is Billy the Kid, by Link Share regular Cyn Bagley, and is related to some of the EJ Hunter werewolf stories I’ve shared links to in earlier link-share entries.

Second, there is Fire and Forge by Holly Chism, another link-share regular; the third book in her Modern Gods series.

That’s all for now!  I may or may not be taking off next week (depending on how my birthday celebration plays out), but I’ll see you all soon!

Inspiration for the OTHER Parts of Writing….

I wasn’t entirely sure what to write for a blog this week. Most of the things I could think of were too involved to complete in a week, and doing yet another status report (I’m still working on the next book. I hope to have the next installment of the Law of Swords series sent off to the editor by August (I better; he has an unexpected opening in his schedule, and if I get it to him by then I may not have to find another editor for this series, after all), which should allow for it to be published by year’s end, and for me to move on to the second Shieldclads book) when I had no real news felt a little boring.

Fortunately, I was saved from having to either skip this week or do just that when a certain crowdfunding project popped up in my newsfeed and inspired this post. It is an effort, by one of the original creators, to produce the sequel to one of my favorite computer game series… from the 1980s: Starflight (well, technically, Starflight 2 was the only one I played back then). The campaign is not fully launched, yet (they’re trying to get a handle on how much funding they need), but it’s looking like a direct sequel to the originals. I haven’t had time to play an involved computer game in quite some time, however — it’s been months, I think, since I even opened a game significantly more complex than the “Reversi Free” game on my cell phone.  Despite that, I did make a small pledge to support the game, already.  The earliest it will be out is 2020 (and if they actually make that deadline, I’ll be shocked; I’ve never known a crowd-funded computer game that was delivered on time), so maybe I’ll be able to fit it into my schedule by then.

I loved those games. Some of my other favorite games from that era were the Ancient Art of War (and its sequel, the Ancient Art of War at Sea), Sid Meier’s Pirates!, Red Storm Rising (also by Sid Meier, curiously enough, but based on the Tom Clancy novel), and (squeaking in at the end of that era) the Wing Commander series.*

One thing all these games had in common: Absolutely fantastic, well-designed, well-illustrated, and heavily lore-filled… manuals (sometimes not just manuals; some games came with other material that just added to the fun of getting a boxed game edition.  Nowadays, it seems every game manual you get, even with a boxed game, is little more than what the quick start guide was back then). In the days before every lore-rich game has its own fan-compiled Wiki and computer games had their own novel series written for them (and sometimes even after they started getting their own books), the game manual would often be the definitive source of canon for the lore.

The Ancient Art of War included a complex discussion of strategy and tactics (and the differences between the two, and it included an abridged version of Sun Tzu’s original text). It’s sequel had textbook-level discussions of many of the greatest naval battles in the history of the age of sail. Sid Meier’s Pirates! had bits of humor, a discussion of the different types of ships and arms and bits of history from the era of the early colonization of the Caribbean. It explained why they programmed the ships in the game to react to wind the way they do, and they made it FUN. I learned more about the history of fighting sail from those game manuals than I EVER did in school (and later would read quite a bit more, and learned that while there were some inaccuracies, these manuals were closer to the scholarly accepted truth of these events than any account I could find in my high-school era or earlier texts, including some produced by the US Navy for JROTC). They weren’t novels, nor were they textbooks, nor were they scholarly texts. I’d hesitate to say they were even manuals (at least, compared to what most people think of when they hear the words “software manual”). But they were brilliant examples of writing. I’ve saved a couple of them until today… (I would have saved all of them, but I think the Pirates! manual fell apart from over-use).

I’d say the same was true of the Starflight manuals, and the Wing Commander manuals. These were fun, small texts, again filled with lore, and were excellent examples of worldbuilding.  The Starflight manuals opened with briefing notes on the state of the universe, before discussing the game functions in a less “in-character” way.  (Just curious — does anybody know a term for the inverse of ‘breaking the fourth wall,’ where you’re writing a non-fiction account of a fictional matter, then switch “in character” to the fiction for a moment?  Because these manuals did just that, once or twice).  They would describe the mechanics of the game, give touches of gameplay advice, and intersperse all of that with snippets of fictional “transmissions” and “captains logs” and the like, which were meant to give you clues on how to solve various puzzles throughout the game.  Then it would have an appendix with charts, illustrations, etc. regarding the materials that could be collected in game.

The Wing Commander series manuals (and, curiously, the Red Storm Rising manual) started out in similar fashion (If I recall correctly; I was able to find a copy of the original Starflight manuals online to verify my recollections, but I couldn’t with these).  Their appendices instead were more like “Janes Fighting Ships” entries, detailing the various fighters, capital ships, and equipment you could encounter throughout the game.

I won’t say these sorts of game manuals have gone away completely (I don’t buy NEARLY enough games, nowadays, to say anything of the sort; I do know the 2004 Pirates! remake had a similar style manual, but I’m coming to believe that was a rare exception), but I think a lot of what used to be in the manuals aren’t there any more.  The material’s still around, but its been moved inside the game itself, like the “books” your create-a-character can read in the Elder Scrolls games.  In some ways, this allows for even more of these worldbuilding bits to be included in the lore.  You can’t curl up in bed with them like you can a book (or a Kindle), though (don’t be pedantic and mention laptops; yes, technically, that can work, but laptops generally aren’t that good for gaming, and are harder to “curl up” with than a book).

Again, I’ve tried to keep these books around, but I think I was a bit less successful here — the Starflight 2 manual was once dropped in a bathtub (don’t ask), and I haven’t found the game manuals from the Wing Commander series since my last move.  While I had them, though, they were fun reading — sometimes, even after I stopped playing the games, I would pull them out, curl up in bed, and read these manuals just for nostalgic fun.

So what is the point of all this?  Well, as much as I was waxing nostalgic, it isn’t just to lament the long-forgotten art of computer game manuals.  It’s to talk about applying writing lessons from unexpected sources.  In this case, those old computer game manuals proved to be an excellent model of worldbuilding, for me.

Were I to do a touch of editing (and some additional reconstruction; a portion of them were lost in one of the incidents that delayed The Merrimack Event’s release, and while I reconstructed the important bits I did that a little haphazardly), the notes I wrote up for my own use in the Rink of War universe would greatly resemble the Wing Commander\Red Storm Rising\etc.-style appendices.  My outlines will sometimes include little diary entries\captains logs like you find in the Starflight manuals — things which likely won’t ever make it into the books, themselves, but which help me figure out what the characters are thinking.

You often hear people say “Inspiration comes in many forms” when it comes to story ideas, and writers often take experiences from real life to plot their books around. I’ve come up with childrens book ideas (which I’m not sure I’ll ever have time to write) just by watching the birds at our birdfeeder, myself.  I don’t think most writers think to apply the same thought process to other aspects of their writing careers, however.  When veteran book designers are giving advice to amateurs, they often say to “look at books you like” as examples to base their books around, but there are a lot of self-publishers who still have no idea how to go about formatting their books.  So how many writers would think to apply the lessons learned from game manuals from the 1980s when it comes to writing up notes for their books?

Just a thought.

*- I’d also like to mention the Sierra Classic games, which are also favorites of mine from that era and also contain lots of good examples of good worldbuilding and complex lore. Most of the best examples of the writing of those games were IN the games, not the manuals, however. Oh, and while I’m at it, I might as well mention “Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego,” which I think was the last game I bought for my old Commodore 64; I didn’t play that game for very long (I switched over to a PC not long after), but it came with a copy of a (real, unadulterated for the game) desk encyclopedia I still have and may occasionally still use now and then.

Deciding on Conventions…

(Once again, I’m a day late posting my blog.  It seems I’m always doing this, nowadays — I’d make the switch from (ir)regular Sunday postings to (ir)regular Monday postings official, but then I’d probably not get them out until Tuesdays!)

Libertycon (the science fiction convention, not the political one of the same name) was this past weekend. Much of my Facebook feed these past few days has been all about it (coincidentally, I’m sure. It has nothing to do with the fact that many of my Facebook friends are authors, and almost all of the Facebook groups I’m a part of are writing or sci-fi\fantasy related).

It’s been fun watching everything that’s been going on. There’ve been pictures of interesting panels galore, stuffed manatees and mastadons, and even a dancing cow. (No joke — an author was selling her books by agreeing to dance around in a cow onesie for thirty seconds to a minute (depending on product) each time someone bought one of her books).

I have never been to Libertycon.  I’ve wanted to go (precisely BECAUSE so many of my Facebook friends are regulars, there), but every year I’ve tried to budget for it, I’ve had something major stop me — for example, an air conditioner failing at just the wrong time, forcing me to instead spend that budget on a replacement air conditioner rather than a convention (it’s 100 degrees outside, as I’m typing this, so I REALLY hope that doesn’t happen again, any time soon.  As it is, the AC is barely keeping up).

I’m still hoping to be invited back to Ravencon as a guest in 2019, but after seeing all the Libertycon-related posts I thought I might try, one more time, to go there as well next year, even if I can’t go as a guest.

I felt much the same, last September, when Dragoncon was happening and so many of the same people (and then some!) were attending.  Unlike Libertycon, I’ve been to Dragoncon before (once).  It’s utterly massive, and while quite fun it’s also a lot of work, even if you’re just attending (as I was).  I generally prefer smaller conventions, and it can be a bit overwhelming, but at the very least there was no lacking of things to do the one time I went.

While it’s too late for 2018, I was thinking of applying to be an “Attending Professional” (what many smaller conventions call a guest) of Dragoncon in 2019.  If accepted, it would be a big step in my career — the largest con I’ll have been a guest (or “attending professional”) at, and the first “non-local” convention I’ll have guested at.  Assuming they accept my application, that is.

The thing is, Libertycon is a small con, like I prefer (they have an attendance cap to ensure that).  I’d probably have a lot more fun there than I’d have at Dragoncon (though it’s not as if going to Dragoncon would be a huge burden — I’m sure I’d enjoy attending there, as well).  It’s a more social event — I’d probably be able to do more socializing than I have since a couple years before I published “In Treachery Forged.”  Just attending such an event (even not being a guest) would probably be pretty good for business.

I can only manage two to three conventions a year, and I’m already planning on Ravencon next year.  Due to the efforts and costs of traveling, I’ve only got the budget and time for just one of those two events, not both.  Assuming I go to either, that is — I could stick to just one convention next year, or try for somewhere more local where I have a better shot at getting a guest slot.

Decisions, decisions….

A Few Things to Tide You Over….

Things have just been too busy for my next “Ravencon Panels (I actually DID do)” to be ready even by next week, and I’m over a week late already, so I figured I’d post something a little less labour-intensive to tide any regular readers of this blog over.  I need a longer block of time for those series posts, but I can block out five or ten minutes of time here and there to work on the blog.  If I manage that, I bet I can cover a potpourri of topics that wind up being longer than my average blog series post.

I. To start with, I may have FINALLY found a cover artist for The Merrimack Event.  He gave me some homework to do, first (which has partly been why I’ve been too busy for the blog, lately), but that’s finally complete and things are moving forward. Getting him has been a bit of a coup, given his pedigree. I’m still waiting on some paperwork to be completed before I announce just who it is, however.

II.  I’ve been seeing a lot of odd writer’s or sci-fi\fantasy focused events, lately. Things like An Evening With Neil Gaiman at the Wolf Trap Theater (I was hoping to attend this, but as of when I’m typing this, it doesn’t look like I’ll make it), Dune: The Ballet (seriously? This really exists?), a comicon-style cosplay event at a local bar (which was last week, which is why I haven’t included a link; I missed it), and a Harry Potter for Night for Adults from our local library (we’ll see if I do that).  No real point here — just an observation.

III.  Something that nearly inspired another part in my Weird Research blog post series:  I saw an ad for a booklet, 10 B.S. Medical Tropes that Need to Die TODAY,  on Facebook.  It was free at the time (regularly $0.99), so I picked it up.  It was very informative, and quite useful for certain genre, but it didn’t address my main concern with medicine in stories:  Useful medical treatment in a fantasy setting.  So, if that’s what you’re looking for, I’ve been able to pull a lot of medical research from the following sources:

For medication, I found an easy-to-understand compilation of modern-science studies on the effectiveness of herbs, botanicals, and similar products thanks to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

For surgery or other medical treatment… I suggest that you read the sports pages regularly.  Search through them long enough and you’ll find a lot of discussion of treatments, healing rates, and the long-term effects of various injuries, and it’s all in layman’s terms — you don’t need to learn too much jargon to figure it out.  Of course, if you want something more in-depth, I still note that when it comes to broken bones, separated shoulders, muscle tears, and (increasingly) concussions, it’s the field of sports medicine that is generating the most studies.

IV.  I rarely talk about my novelette, To the Rink of War.  It’s been a big disappointment for me — I originally intended for it to be a series of connected shorts (the first of which being the one I released) that would expand into a larger universe, which I would then start opening up for a multi-author shared-universe anthology.  I have Part I published, and in rough form I also have parts III and IV complete (in need of editing), with V mostly finished and II… well part II needed a complete re-write, but I figured I could get that done well before I was projecting its release.

But that, obviously, never happened.  The initial release of To the Rink of War was disappointing — I had no budget for a cover, and what I was able to cobble together without a budget was underwhelming; it was very short, but at the time of the release the lowest price I could set for it on Amazon ($0.99) was the most popular price point for much larger self-published novels (while that price point still exists, I’ve noticed fewer and fewer indie writers charging that low), so it was no bargain.  And it’s been a while since I published, but I seem to recall I managed to (unintentionally) time its release to the lowest-selling week of the year for me (and several other indie writers of my acquaintance).

The failure taught me several lessons, but I was saddened.  I was really invested in that world.  It had the development of a new sport, Microgravity Hockey.  It had interesting characters (and I do mean characters) like Emperor Norton II (yes, based on the guy I linked to), who may not be quite as crazy as he is letting you believe.  It had a mining asteroid colony setting (sort of like the popular Expanse series, but I like my stories a little less dreary than that).  On the other hand, it was kind of labor intensive to write, requiring me to do things like plot a course between asteroids using Celestia, and then using math in ways I haven’t since my high school days to figure out the actual travel times between the asteroids my characters were inhabiting.

The horrifically poor sales and math-heavy worldbuilding weren’t the only things working against its sequel.  My release schedule was utterly wrecked when first The Kitsune Stratagem was released late, and then The Merrimack Event’s initial “development hell” moment pushed back several of my other books (a small part of the long delay between In Treachery Forged and In Forgery Divided can be attributed to my attempts to get this… situation, if you will, resolved).  Re-writing Part II for a story with such horrifically anemic sales as the Rink of War had seemed like a waste of time better put into getting the rest of my books out there.  It worked fine as a stand-alone (it was initially conceived as such), so if I never got out part II it would be fine.

Lately, though, I’ve been giving thought to reviving the story, revamping Part I and re-tooling parts II-V so that I wound up with something more resembling a novel.  Still thinking of exactly how to do that, but depending how things go with The Merrimack Event’s eventual release (please, let me FINALLY get that thing out the door!) and the completion of In Division Imperiled (Book III of the Law of Swords series) I might be able to find time to look into that some more.  Though I also want to get By Claw and Arrow (the sequel to The Kitsune Stratagem) started, soon, so… we’ll see how things go.

V.  Speaking of In Division Imperiled, I’m thinking of returning its title to “In Division Deceived.”  Or maybe even changing that third word to something else altogether.  For those who weren’t here, or don’t remember the story, the Law of Swords series was conceived as a five book series.  In my efforts to better position my book for a Trad-Pub contract, I revised the outline to make it a four book series.  The title change was a result of the outline change, blending the title of book III and IV together.  Well, now that I’m self-publishing, I’m back to a 5-book outline.

But the outline has also changed significantly, as well, and the titles of the remaining books no longer fit the storylines explored as well as they had under the original outline.  At this point, the only thing I am certain of is that book three will have a three word title beginning with “In Division.”  I’ll see how the final word of the title fits once I’m done writing the darned thing.

VI.  My local library may or may not be hosting an event for local authors in October.  I may or may not be interested in attending, or even participating.  But the library is giving so little information about it (other than that it might be what they’re having this year as a substitute for Indie Author Day) that I have no idea what, exactly, the event is.  Or rather, they’re giving me the when, the where, the who, the how, but not the what or the why.  I may or may not revisit this topic once I know more.  You may or may not be interested.

VII.  I went from binge-watching the Guy Williams-led Zorro (1957) to binge-watching the Richard Greene-led Robin Hood (1955) to binge-watching the Raymond Burr-led Perry Mason (1957).  All of these shows were some I had seen before.  All of these shows were made well before I was born.  Somehow, however, I enjoy re-watching these shows a lot more than the bulk of my more modern favorites.  I don’t know if that’s from a subconscious bias towards the “classics,” or if the TV storytelling of the era just fits my interests more.  Something to ponder.

VIII. The point of a multi-author anthology like Worlds Enough: Fantastic Defenders is to introduce the existing audiences of each of the contributing writers to the works of all of the other writers.  I don’t know how successful that has been, so far.  On the other hand, it’s also the sort of thing that might have more long-term marketing effects.  Now, any time any of the writers in the anthology have a new release, that author’s new readers — exploring the writer’s other works — will see, and may purchase, the anthology… and be introduced to us other authors, as well.  It would help encourage those introductions, though, if the book had more reviews, so if any of my regular readers are willing to review that book it would be quite helpful.  (mentioning my story in the review would be nice, too)

IX.  I will need to update all of my Kindle eBooks, soon.  Apparently, something was changed in how Kindle interprets eBook files, so most of my scene separations are gone.  I’ll be introducing fleurons to restore those separations, so I’m open to making minor revisions in the files.  If anyone knows of or has found any typos in my books, lately, now is the time to let me know so I can make corrections.

X.  I may have mentioned this a few weeks ago, but I received an invite to be a guest at another convention (I haven’t announced which one, yet, and it feels like such an announcement deserves more prominent placement than as the tenth item of this slot).  I keep hoping for my name to appear on that convention’s website before saying anything, but it hasn’t yet.  It didn’t for the Ravencon convention I was a guest at earlier this year, either, until a couple months after I got the invite.  I guess this is a standard practice?

XI.  (written several days after topic VI, above, but not related to it) My local library had a “minicon” yesterday (Saturday).  It might have been an event that I would have been interested in, but I only found out about it after it was long over.  I keep myself tuned in to the library’s social media pages as much as is reasonable, but this isn’t the first time I’ve missed an event I might have serious interest in; in fact, I’d say it’s the tenth or eleventh… this year.  I wouldn’t even know about the October event from topic VI if I hadn’t queried them about Indie Author Day.  I’ve frequently found my library to be very supportive, but I really have to wonder what I need to do to be kept informed about their events.

XII.  As someone else said they had in the comments section of this article (which inspired this part of the post), I “broke my teeth” in writing with fanfiction.  I stopped posting fanfiction in 2005, but I didn’t entirely stop writing it.  I posted an update to one of my fanfics shortly after publishing my first book, trying to encourage my fanfic audience to seek my professional fiction, but that proved too ineffective to resume my fanfic career (even as a marketing gimmick for my professional fiction).

But I do have quite a bit of fanfiction stored… well, somewhere in my hard drive.  None of it is edited (not all that significant; my fanfiction rarely, if ever, got anything more than a spellcheck in the first place.  I was creating fanfics as a writing exercise, not as an editing exercise, and I never had enough constructive feedback to make effective revisions anyway).  Few, if any of them are finished.  But still, I probably have hundreds of thousands of words worth of various unposted fanfics just sitting there, gathering dust.

That article had me thinking back to those unfinished, long forgotten fanfics, and wondering if I should do something with them.  I considered “filing the serial numbers” off a few of them to try and make them publishable, but I believe my fanfics are too tightly wound into the original source for that to work.  It wouldn’t take much time for me to upload them to fanfiction.net and put them out there for people to read, but I have no intention of finishing any of them, and that might annoy people.

Still thinking about it all.

XIII.  Still undecided about what to do with my old convention calendar.  I thought writers and fans might find it a valuable resource, but it gets little traffic and almost no-one says anything about it.  It takes a great deal of effort to update and maintain, so if no-one’s using it there doesn’t seem to be any point.  Ah, well.

XIV.  And it’s time to post.  Hope you found something here to interest you….

I Promised a Post This Week…

So, I promised a blog post this week, and here it is.  Unfortunately, it’s not the one I was hoping for — namely, a blog on the panel topic, “Mythology as the Basis for Speculative Fiction.”

It’s already a week and several days late, and it really isn’t moving as well as I was hoping.  I have a lot of things to say on the topic, but my views seem… disconnected, somehow.  I’m having trouble finding ways to transition from point to point.

If these posts on the panel topics were REAL panels, there would be no issue.  I’d be led by a moderator through his questions.  Or if I were the moderator, I would be asking different questions — ones which regular followers of this blog would have already heard my answers to several times.

I mean, if you don’t know (for example) that, when confronted by an editor who insisted that Elves and Dwarves and Dragons were played out, I drew from the mythologies of Japan, Finland, aboriginal Australia, Inuit, and Shetland Island folklore to fill out a replacement set of mythological creatures (Kitsune and Wulvers and Bunyips, among others) as I constructed the world for The Kitsune Stratagem, then you haven’t been reading here very long — I’ve certainly mentioned it often enough.  In front of a new audience like a convention panel, however, I could expound on that and, for them, it would be fresh material.

Again, though, I still had a number of points to discuss; things on mythological allegory, things on the different types of Elf you can find in mythology (High Elves from the Norse, brownie-like Elves from Wales and Elizabethan England, etc.), a discussion of the different mythologies that were brought together for Tolkien (he drew from Norman, Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Arthurian myths, among others, while putting together what he considered a “British” mythology.  Finally, I wanted to talk about how the fiction popular in modern geek culture was re-interpreting or forming mythologies of its own, citing fiction like Dragonball, Superman, and Star Wars in the process.

But… none of those points seemed to fit together.  I’m not happy with what I have, either in the structure or in the depth of my content.  I’ve been working on it for two weeks, and it’s not worth posting.  It’s been distracting me from my other writing projects, and it’s already too late to start a different blog to be ready Sunday.

So… this is it for a blog this week, no blog will be available next week, and if I do continue this series I’ll be skipping this panel and moving on to “Using Tropes to Tell Stories.”

Finally, some business:  I just learned that the current ebook price of the new anthology I’m in, Worlds Enough: Fantastic Defenders, is a special introductory price.  It’s expected to go up THIS THURSDAY, first to a (still discounted) $3.99 and ultimately up to $4.99 in another few weeks’ time.  So, if you haven’t bought it yet, NOW is the time to get your ebook copy.  (Or you could go ahead and get it in print, but any discounts of that will be Amazon’s call)

Ravencon Panels (I actually DID do): Swords Not Required

Note:  As I was writing this blog last night, I learned that the print edition for the anthology World’s Enough, Fantastic Defenders, in which my story “A Gun for Shalla” appears, had appeared in print on Amazon.  This was a bit of a surprise for me, even if I knew it was SUPPOSED to be released soon (I was told the book launch would be at Balticon, which is next weekend), because I was expecting at least one more communication requiring my response before it was released.  But, hey, it’s out!  There are several good stories in this anthology in addition to my own, so buy your copy, today!

And now on to the regularly scheduled (and delayed for an evening) blog….

When I saw this panel on the long list of possible Ravencon panels, I was quick to pick it.  And, it turns out, it became my first panel (as a pro) ever.

Now, if you haven’t read my books you might not guess it (after all, I have a series I’ve called the “Law of Swords” series), but I frequently use weapons other than swords in my fiction.  So I was quite ready to discuss the topic…

And then I was made moderator.  While I could pick which questions to ask the panel, time management issues meant I couldn’t answer them.  I wasn’t really disappointed (I got all kinds of interesting discussion based on the questions I posed), but I do want to give my own answers to my “questions for the panel”:

I.  Why are Swords so compelling in fantasy fiction, and which of those characteristics would you recommend when considering a different type of weapon for your main character?
There are many reasons swords are a great weapon for the main character of a sword-and-sorcery style fantasy series (beyond just, well, the word “sword” is used in the genre name).
1. For one thing, it is the iconic weapon of the middle ages (though it probably shouldn’t be; the iconic weapon SHOULD be the English Longbow, or the horse-mounted pike, or… well, several other options which would have been more commonly and effectively used by the warriors of the middle ages, but because they were the weapon of choice for symbolical reasons during the crusades; after all, the cross guards used in the swords of the time made them look like crosses).  Most sword-and-sorcery fantasies are set in the middle ages.  So, it just makes sense.
2. Tactically, swords are equally good offensively and defensively.  My fellow panelist (and Ravencon Literary Guest of Honor) Chuck Gannon brought this up and discussed it extensively.
3. Swords have been used (are still used, though mostly ceremonially, today) for thousands of years, though for long stretches of time they were more of a secondary weapon.   Outside of some style differences, a “sword” is a fairly universal thing; if you are writing a fantasy, it doesn’t matter where in the technological timeframe you set your fiction, a sword of some sort would be available.  This wouldn’t necessarily be true (for example) of a handheld crossbow, or many types of throwing weapons used (theoretically) by ninja, or other more exotic types of weaponry.  And we know they have really be used in combat, unlike, say, the military flail.
4. Now, this is a bit of a “chicken or the egg” thing, but swords are popular for writers (or movie people) to use as a weapon because their use is already popular enough that people can easily visualize how swords work.  It’s almost impossible to grow up without being exposed to some sort of sword fight in movies or television, and while I’ve heard on occasion that the style of sword fighting used in movies isn’t historically accurate, people will be able to picture SOME kind of sword fighting as you write your fight scene.
So, to sum up, some of the characteristics that might be useful for you to consider when choosing a weapon for your character are:  Symbolism, effectiveness both offensive and defensive, does not appear out of place in the technological timeframe of your fantasy, and the audience understanding how it works.  We’ll touch a bit on some of these in the next few questions, so let’s leave it there for now.

II.  Different weapons have different “best use” characteristics — bows and arrows are better used at range, ninja tools are best used for the assassin type, spear-and-shield are best used in group tactics, and so forth. Does the choice of weapon you give your main character affect their personality, and if so how?

I really should have asked whether the weapon “affects or is affected by” their personality when I asked this at the convention, because you might not decide on a weapon until after you’ve finished designing all the other aspects of your character.  Regardless, the weapon you choose to arm your character with can easily shape or be shaped by the character’s personality.
If your character is a pikeman (spearman, part of the shield wall, whatever), you had better be able to get along with your fellow soldier or you aren’t going to live very long; while you can apply some other polearm styles to a spear and use it successfully, they really aren’t intended for one on one fighting.
If your character is using assassins’ tools, they (or their trainer, if they’re still learning how to use them) probably have some significant secrets in their background.
If your character is using a bow and arrow… well, they either need a secondary weapon for close in fighting (most commonly a sword or dagger, as seen by Legolas in the Lord of the Rings and Robin Hood in most versions of his tale.  It doesn’t have to be a sword, however; in The Kitsune Stratagem, I gave my male lead a bow and arrow with a modified version of a ninja tool for close range fighting) or they need to hang back from the center of the action.
I could go on, but I think you get the point.  The tactics required to use the weapon, the style of combat suggested by the weapon, the range of the weapon, and so forth all make differences in how you expect the character to behave.  If they break the expected behavior, you have to justify that.  So, if you have an anti-social spearman, you’re going to have to justify that.  If your character is an assassin who blabs out everything about his life at the bar every week, you’re going to have to justify that.  Well… you get the idea.

III.  Certain archetypal fantasy races have weapons they’re expected to carry — a significant plotline in my Law of Swords series came about because of an argument I had over whether Dwarven Axemen made tactical sense or not. If you give an atypical weapon to your fantasy race character — for example, a heavy warhammer wielded by a stereotypical high fantasy elf — how much explanation do you think is necessary?

You know, I spent a lot of time answering OTHER moderator’s questions with “it depends,” it is fitting I need to give that answer to one of my own questions.
If all you’re doing is giving your Dwarf a nice sword, or some kind of ranged weapon, or something of that ilk — something that you would expect them to be able to handle, even if you were expecting them to have an axe or a warhammer — you don’t really need to give any explanation.  On the other hand, if you’re giving, say, a zanbatou to a hobbit, you need more of an explanation than the Rule of Cool.
But you might WANT to explain why your characters are being armed with atypical weapons.  There’s a reason you picked those weapons, right?  If it’s anything more than a whim, don’t you think your audience might also be interested?

IV.  No-one thinks twice if your magically-inclined characters decide to use a small twig — also known as a wand — in battle, even if small twigs were never used that way in real life combat. Do you think — IN FANTASY — that you can get away with inventing a completely original type of weapon for your non-magical characters?  If so, what cautions would you suggest authors consider when inventing these weapons?
An admission:  I asked this question because I did this, myself (sort of) in The Kitsune Stratagem.  I took a real life weapon, a ninja tool (though a variation that was typical of the legend rather than the accepted historical form), and altered it to be a little more portable.
So, obviously my answer to this question is “yes,” I do think writers can get away with inventing original fantasy weapons.  But I think they need to be careful:  Don’t throw your readers out of your universe by making too complicated a weapon, or something too anacronistic.  If no other society in your world is using gears, having someone carry around a clockwork-powered repeating crossbow would throw your reader out of place.

And that’s how I WOULD have answered my own questions.

Edit:  Comments closed due to too many spam attempts.  If you would like them re-opened, please contact me.

Ravencon 2017 Recap

I’m going to start this recap with something that happened after the convention ended: I got con crud.  I’m usually very good about avoiding that, but somehow it hit me this time.  Ugh.  If this blog is less coherent than normal, well, that’s why. But for now… back to the beginning.

THURSDAY

I left for the convention on Thursday.  It’s about a 3 hr drive from my home to Williamsburg (a little less, actually, if you drive non-stop), and I got to the hotel a little before 2pm.  I found a full parking lot, because the previous event (some sort of meeting for Greenway planners, I think?) hadn’t broken up, yet, and my room wasn’t open right away.  I was told to try again an hour later, so I ducked into the hotel bar to wait it out.

You may recall, if you read my post on last year’s Ravencon, that my biggest complaint was the dining.  The food wasn’t bad, but it was slow.  I made efforts to prepare for a repeat of that experience, actually buying a microwave and lugging it down to Williamsburg with me (complete with a half-dozen cans of soup) so I’d be sure to be able to eat something as the convention was going on.

But, until I had my room, I couldn’t pull out that microwave, and I was trying to kill time anyway, so I figured I might as well have lunch.  The bar was empty, save for the bartender.  I let her know I was there for Ravencon, and asked whether they would be opening the restaurant this time.  I was told that it would, with buffet dining and a special Ravencon menu for most of the weekend.  “We learned our lesson from the last time,” she told me.  As it turns out, she was right — I never wound up using that microwave during the convention, and the food was actually much better than I remembered from last year.

After lunch, my room was ready for me to check in.  I let my Facebook friends know I was there, then unpacked, and rested up a bit.  I tried to make contact with some family who lives in the area to see if we could meet up, but that proved impossible.  I also tried to get to my e-mail, but found that the hotel wi-fi servers and the webmail access for my usual e-mail server were incompatible.  This proved to be important (as I’ll discuss later), but I spent about an hour trying to get things to work unsuccessfully.  So, with nothing else to do, I decided to try and find the spot where Con Ops was being set up.

I’d received an e-mail saying Con Ops would be in “Room M.”  I checked the hotel map — there was no Room M.  I checked the hotel’s posted activities list, and saw there would be set-up in Room J… but that room was empty.  I tried a few other locations I thought it might be at, but couldn’t find any evidence of the con set-up.  I finally gave up and (my settling-in having taken several hours) decided to have an early dinner.  So I was back to the bar.

Dinner was fine, but uneventful… until I was on my way out the door, where I ran into another Ravencon guest (and fellow panelist), Jennifer R. Povey.  I mentioned that this would be my first convention as a professional guest, and we traded stories about travel and conventions past.  I then joined her to again try and find Con Ops.  Which we did find… but only after Con Ops had shut down for the night.  It was in Room 8.

And that was it (for the con-relevant part, anyway) for Thursday.

FRIDAY

I learned why there was so much confusion about the rooms early on:  The hotel’s convention rooms are nice and laid out okay, but the normal room number system was confusing.  The Ravencon staff, after the problems from last year (another thing I mentioned in last year’s Ravencon Recap), decided to re-label the hotel’s room numbers to make things less confusing.  Which is fine, but they didn’t have those new room designations up Thursday… so Con Ops was in Room M, but only after the rooms had been relabeled on Friday.  The new room numbers made a lot of sense, actually, but that didn’t help on Thursday.

Badge pick-up was supposed to start at 1pm.  I met Jennifer R. Povey again at Badge Pick-up about five minutes before then, and started waiting.  And it did open at one… but not for guests.  The “guest packets” hadn’t been put together, and so we couldn’t pick up our badges.  While frustrating (and somehow tiring; I was more worn out waiting for my badge to finally be made available than anything else that I did over the weekend), the time wasn’t a total waste; instead, I learned a few tips about being a panelist from someone who had been on a few panels, herself (the aforementioned Jennifer R. Povey).

It was about three hours later that I was finally able to pick up my badge.  The guest packet included our badge, a copy of the programming booklet (which is the same whether you’re a guest or an attendee), a few letters to welcome the guests, our “final” schedule, and a folding paper nameplate.  Following one of those tips, I’ve kept the nameplate for future conventions which might not be quite as well prepared.

Now armed with a badge, a schedule, and a nameplate, it was time for the convention to begin.  The first event was authors-only:  A meet-and-greet in the Green Room.  I had high expectations for this, but it started out a bit dull; there wasn’t as much meeting and greeting as I had expected (possibly because there wasn’t enough seating for everyone to eat while they met and greeted one another, or possibly because several of us just trying to get something to eat before our panels).  After having a few snacks, however, I noticed a couple of people that I thought (correctly) would be on my first panel sitting — Jeanne Adams and Nancy Northcott — and went to introduce myself.  I was scheduled to be moderator (again, my first panel as a professional and I’m moderating?  Ack!), so I took the opportunity to briefly go over my plan for that panel (as Ravencon’s moderator instructions recommended.  I will note that, in the five other panels I was on, the moderator only did this once).

The meet and greet was interrupted (for me, Jeanne, and Nancy) for that first panel of the evening:  Swords Not Required, a discussion about arming your fantasy characters with weapons other than swords.  The three of us were joined by Chuck Gannon, the Literary Guest of Honor, adding just a touch of star power to my first-ever panel.

Now, over the next few weeks (health and time permitting) I intend to write blog posts on each of the panels I worked at Ravencon, so I won’t be covering the contents of each panel today, but I AM really looking forward to covering this one.  As moderator, it was my job to manage time while keeping the panel on topic and direct questions (either my own or the audience’s) to the panelists.  I figured I would let the panelists introduce themselves, then go through four or five of my own questions, and try to preserve about ten minutes for audience questions.  I was keeping a very close eye on the time.  While the panelists had plenty of time to come up with answers to my questions, there was no time left for me.  I was willing to cut people off if time was going to be an issue, but I wasn’t going to cut people off just so I could speak.  So… I never got to give my own answers.  Well, that’s partly what next week’s planned blog post is for — I’ll be answering giving my own viewpoints on the questions I asked my fellow panelists.

I think the panel went well enough.  My fellow authors, as well as some of the people from the audience, all gave me kudos for handling the moderation duties well.  I… well, my own case of imposter syndrome has me thinking that most of that praise was just people being polite to the newbie, but I’m willing to accept that I didn’t mess things up too badly.

After that panel it was time for the opening ceremonies.  Now, this may have been my first ever convention as a pro, but obviously I’ve been to conventions as an attendee (and, many years ago, as a fanfic panelist) many times over the years, having attended a few dozen conventions all told (I stopped counting at twenty or so).  However many conventions I’ve been to, however, I’ve ALWAYS skipped the opening ceremonies; they’ve never held any interest for me.  But I was a guest, and they were expecting me to attend, so there I went, not knowing what to expect.

Ravencon has over a hundred guests most years, and they promote a lot of guest turnover from year to year.  I figured I might have to stand up and be seen, but with so many guests — many of whom were, like me, first-time guests — I was NOT expecting to have to say anything.  But no, there I was, being asked to introduce myself (alongside twenty or so other new Ravencon guests) to a crowd of people interested in the convention guests.  I drew a complete blank about what to say, only mentioning the basics (that I was a self-published author and would be doing several panels that weekend), and was very glad when it was over.  Of course I thought of a million things I COULD have said, far too late to say any of them.  Next time I’m a guest at a convention, I’ll have to remember to be prepared to speak at the opening ceremonies, even if it seems like it would be impossible for me to do so.

Off the proverbial hot seat and with opening ceremonies (thankfully) over, I rushed off to the restaurant for dinner.  I’d had some snacks at the meet-and-greet, but those were just to tide me over.  I only had two hours until my next panel, and remembering last year I was afraid I barely had enough time to eat.  As it turns out, I had plenty of time:  I got to the hotel restaurant, and was shown a nearly empty buffet with no lines and almost no wait time for the staff.  The food was excellent (I had both the fish and the chicken; neither were overcooked, neither were dry, and both were well-seasoned and flavorful; you can’t ask for more than that from a buffet) and I was done with much more time to spare than I thought possible.

So, I went to attend my first panel on the “fan” side of the table, the “Economics of Self-Publishing” panel.  Ravencon has had this panel for several years, now, and it was moderated (as it had been last year) by the inestimable Chris Kennedy.  Now, for a very long time, the draft schedule for the convention had me listed on this panel; it was only in the last few weeks before the convention started that I was dropped from it.  That was fine, as it wasn’t my favorite aspect on the topic of self-publishing to cover (I was scheduled for a different panel on self-publishing later in the convention, which I figured was more my speed), but I’d been mentally preparing for this panel for weeks.  Most of what was covered by the panelists were things I was already well acquainted with, and there were a few things I’d thought of that I never heard mentioned during the panel.  It kind of made me regret not pushing harder to be on this panel; I think I could have contributed.

And then it was time for my Mythology as the Basis for Speculative Fiction panel.  Again, I will discuss the contents of the panel in a later blog post, but here are a few off-topic comments on this panel:  This was my panel alongside Guest of Honor Mercedes Lackey.  That was a great experience, but it’s entirely possible that I caught the con crud from her:  She had a cold (well, I gather it was a little more serious than a mere cold), and was warning people that she would be our “patient zero” for the convention.  Even the moderator said that we should keep at least two seats between her and us while we were setting up.

Other than Mercedes Lackey, my fellow panelists included Jennifer R. Povey, Christopher L. Smith, and moderator Bishop O’Connell.  The difference in experience between the Guest of Honor and the rest of us panelists became stark when we started talking about our publication credits.  A few short stories and anthology credits for a couple of them, four books for the moderator, three books for myself (and an anthology story theoretically coming out at Balticon in May, and one more novel I nearly had ready before Ravencon.  I mentioned a simplified version of why I didn’t get that book out in time during my panels, but the full story of what’s going on with that is worth a blog post on its own).  Then Mercedes Lackey mentioned her book total:  128.  (Well, she pointed out, 129, but the 129th wasn’t yet available for sale)

At any rate, all of the panelists had something to contribute to the panel, and the audience seemed to enjoy themselves, so I’d call it a success.  And as for me, it was the end of my evening.

SATURDAY

I started the day by ordering a room service breakfast that actually arrived in time for me to eat it (another sign that the hotel learned some lessons from last year).  I needed it fast, because I had a panel first thing that day:  Using Tropes to Tell Stories.

The panel consisted of myself, Bishop O’Connell, and Jim Bernheimer.  We were short a panelist (someone must have cancelled at the very last second), and it started a bit slow — we all needed coffee or something, I think — but we rallied, and in the end it was a success.

I went back to my room after that and had that cup of coffee (hotel room coffee… which wasn’t as bad as what I’ve had from some hotels, but still wasn’t great), spending the next hour getting myself better prepared for my next panel:  Building Worlds for Fiction with Dave Joria, Rob Balder, Mark Wandrey, and myself.  It was an interesting panel, though I kind of wish I had been moderating this one for one reason:  Two of us panelists were novelists, two were in webcomics.  I was hoping to get more about the different perspectives on building a world when writing prose versus when you could use illustrations for a portion of your worldbuilding.  I don’t think that topic was touched on, much, during the panel.

I had a long break after that panel, and decided to go to the hotel restaurant for lunch.  I almost chose to use the buffet, as the dinner buffet from the night before had been so good, but I wasn’t all that enthused by the buffet menu and went into the bar, instead.  This may very well have been the most fortuitous decision I made during the entire convention.

The bar waitress was showing me to my seat when, from what was the largest table in the room, I heard someone call, “Hey, are you here by yourself?”  I wasn’t sure they were talking to me at first, but once I was sure I indicated I was.  “Well, then, get your butt over here!”  I was being invited to sit at his table.

The person calling me was Baen Books‘ consulting editor, Kelly Lockhart.  Also at the table were Baen Books science consultant (and proponent of scientific outreach) Dr. Tedd Roberts, and Baen authors Mike Massa, Kacey Ezell, and Christopher L. Smith.  (There were also a couple other people at the table who I have yet to identify).

There were discussions about a number of things — other Baen authors, other conventions, a few scientific anecdotes from Tedd Roberts, and far too many other things to discuss in this post.  There were interesting conversations going on all sides of the table, and it was hard to keep track of everything being said.  Needless to say, this was an unexpected and welcome event in and of itself.

But lunch eventually broke up, and it was back to the convention proper.  I’d signed up for a wine and cheese tasting at 2pm, largely because the wines involved were coming from Three Fox Vineyards (as my self-publishing company is called Fennec Fox Press, you might guess that I have a bit of an interest in foxes), so I went straight there.  Unfortunately, things were horribly disorganized at first — I was “carded” three times, by three different people (twice by the panel organizers, once by someone sent down from Con Ops just to ensure everyone had been carded), they didn’t have the cutting board they needed for the cheese selection, they had to get the hotel staff to find them a couple pitchers of water before they could start, and so forth.  With the tasting running long, I wound up having to leave in the middle to make it to my next panel.

That panel was Self-Publishing 2017, with fellow authors Thomas A. Mays, Toi Thomas, myself, and (replacing the two expected panelists I mentioned in my last post) Christine McDonnell along with moderator Jim McDonald.  Now, as I’ve said before, I’m not going to be discussing panel content in this write-up; that’s for follow-up posts over the next few weeks.  There’s not much to say about the content of this panel which wasn’t mentioned somewhere in my Self-Publishing Roundtable blog series from a couple years ago, anyway.  There was something I wasn’t able to discuss at this panel, however, which will be in that topic:

In preparation for the convention, I had contacted my local library system about resources they were making available to self-published authors.  My local library is very supportive of the local author scene, and I wanted to know if there was anything they particularly wanted discussed.  I got an e-mail with all of that information… on the 28th, when I was already at the convention and couldn’t read it.  So, in place of a “Self-Publishing 2017” blog post, I’ll be making a “Self-Publishing and the Local Library” blog that week.

After the Self-Publishing 2017 panel, I had a brief break.  After my lunch at the “Baen table,” I very nearly stopped by the Baen Books Traveling Roadshow (a regular panel at many conventions I go to).  That panel wasn’t supposed to actually start until 4:30pm, though, and I had a panel at 5; I would have had to leave shortly after they started.

My 5pm panel (my last as a panelist, this convention) was on the Mechanics of Magic in Fantasy & Science Fiction, coming full circle with fellow panelists from my first panel Nancy Northcott and Jeanne Adams.  Along with us was Joe Wetmore, one half of the Instant Replay Live Youtube channel, which does lets-plays and game reviews (an odd panel for such a guest, but it worked out well for us).

Now, I had planned on attending a bunch of other panels after that, but I was exhausted.  I went back to my hotel room, rested up a bit, had dinner, rested up some more, went to sleep… and overslept the next morning.

SUNDAY

Well, “overslept” may not technically be right (I didn’t set an alarm, or have any particular place I had to be that morning, so I didn’t miss anything; had I been scheduled for a panel, I would have had alarms set and room wake-up calls going before I went to bed the night before), but I woke up so late that I couldn’t go to any of the morning panels.  After a much less eventful lunch than Saturday (skipping breakfast because I woke up so late), I went to a final convention panel as an attendee:  The Mad Scientist’s Revenge!

This panel consisted of Carolyn O’Neal, Samantha Bryant, Tedd Roberts, and his grad student going by the psuedonym of EvilPenguin.  Two writers, two mad scientists.

I felt a bit sorry for the writers.  The moderator (who was one of the writers) didn’t seem to recognize that this wasn’t going to be a different kind of panel.  She was trying to ask questions as if this was a standard writer’s panel, but based on the write-up (“Presenting preposterous theories for world domination and evil conspiracies”) it was intended to be more of a silly, story-telling humor panel to close out the convention with rather than “education for creatives” like so many of the other panels were.  Tedd Roberts and EvilPenguin, however, had such strong personalities and such interesting anecdotes that the panel worked more as I believe it was intended than it otherwise might have.  The other writer, caught between the two big-personality scientists and the moderator who didn’t understand what kind of panel she was on, barely got a word in edge-wise.  Still, from the audience’s perspective, it was fun and entertaining…

And then the convention was over.  Well, for most of the attendees, anyway.  There was one more event:  The Dead Dog Dinner.  Basically, as you might guess from the name, it’s a dinner, at which guests and staff who were staying at the hotel for the night could get together and chat about the convention.

I wound up sitting at a table with the programming director, the assistant to the con chair, and several other staff members; there were other panelists at the dinner, but somehow all of them wound up at different tables.  Still, it was nice to be able to have a conversation breaking down some of the things that happened during the convention with the staff.  (And I got some “gossip” about the state of the convention which I won’t discuss here, because I’m not sure how much of that was in confidence).

And then I was done for the day.  I spent the rest of the day packing and resting up, and then returned home on Monday.

And by Tuesday I knew for sure I had come down with con crud.  *sigh*

Health permitting, next week I’ll start my next blog series on Ravencon Panels (I DID do).  Until then…

Ravencon Panels (I’m Not Doing): One Man’s Villain Is Another Man’s Hero

This is the fifth in my series of blogs on panels at Ravencon I’m NOT doing.  For further explanation, see my earlier blog here.  (I noted last week I had apparently been cut from several of the panels I was originally scheduled for; well, the program guide has been… well, not quite finalized, because these sorts of things tend to change at the last minute, but close enough — they’ve made a PDF of the schedule public here. In the end I was put back on some of those I originally feared I had been cut from, and should now be on listed on six panels, which (assuming nothing changes) I’ll mention next week.

One Man’s Villain is Another Man’s Hero

Here is the Ravencon write-up for this panel:

Twirling mustaches and obvious evil plans are a thing of the past. Today’s villains and heroes are as complicated as the world we live in. Discuss with our panelists what makes the difference between villain and hero, and how thin that line can be.

Once again, we’ve got an interesting topic.  Now, I’m not sure you’ll find many complex villains in my own novels (I try to focus on developing the heroes at the start of a series, with the villain getting more development later in the series.  Unfortunately, it’s still very early in all of the series I’ve released, so my best villains haven’t shown up yet.  That’s partly why I didn’t sign up for this panel), but I do know something about the topic nonetheless.

It’s actually fairly easy to advise people on how to make a complex villain.  “Give your villain a sympathetic back story,” and “everyone is a hero in their own story; your villain must think he’s doing the right thing” are things I’ve repeatedly heard.  That seems to just be common sense… although (a) common sense is not common and (b) sometimes the story you’re writing doesn’t make it easy to show your villain’s point of view.

There’s also the matter that, well, there have been plenty of popular stories with popular villains who aren’t exactly complex.  While a powerful force of nature and a great danger to all of the people of Middle Earth, Sauron is a fairly straight-forward villain who didn’t need a sympathetic back story to become the main villain of Lord of the Rings (now, he did GET an interesting backstory when the Silmarillion was released, but that wasn’t published until almost twenty years after Sauron was introduced to the reading public).  While the now-non-canon expanded universe did eventually fill out his story, Boba Fett was a villain who became a cultural icon from his physical appearance alone.  His past was a mystery (some people actually think his character was weakened when it was filled in), his motivations were unclear, he had a tiny role, and yet he developed a fan following as big as many of the major villains of the series. (In fact, much of the backstory for him was created BECAUSE he became so popular, if I understand things correctly)

And the villain doesn’t have to be a person.  A “villain” can be a natural disaster, for example, or simply surviving alone in the wilderness.  While not typical of fantasy or science fiction (my main genre), there have been a number of stories where the big struggle is surviving against the odds, and those odds aren’t someone else at all. It can, though — one of the biggest hits in recent years is The Martian, which features a struggle to survive in an alien landscape.  Mars itself is the villain of the story… well, sort of.  “The elements of Mars,” perhaps?

But this topic is specifically about creating a complex villain, and saying (effectively) “give them a sympathetic back story” might not be enough help. It’s a great piece of advice; if you’ve ever seen Batman: The Animated Series, their sympathetic treatment of Mr. Freeze took a Batman villain often considered a comic laughingstock and made him into a major villain that many people could hope succeeded some day.  In fact, I’d argue that series is a virtual blueprint for creating sympathetic villains.  But just that line itself — “Give them a sympathetic back story” — is, well, not enough.

It’s too generic of a piece of advice, and honestly it isn’t always true.  I’ve read many an amateur effort at writing (thanks to my background in fanfiction) where the writer tries too hard at giving the villain a sympathetic back story, and while the villain may be “sympathetic” (or not; if the ‘excuse’ for becoming a villain is too weak, it feels like “Really? That’s it?  That’s why this guy is trying to take over the world?”), but if you make things go too far your villain can appear… well, pathetic, not sympathetic.  So perhaps just “try and give them a sympathetic backstory” isn’t the best piece of advice.

So, what else can you use to make your villain seem complex? Well, how about using other techniques for making a villain compelling and complex.

In the Lord of the Rings, we know next to nothing about Saruman’s back story… except that he was supposed to be a good guy, in fact a leader of good guys, who turned traitor when he thought he was going to lose.  As a villain, he is more complex and compelling than Sauron.  It’s a common technique for the creation of a villain; TV Tropes refers to it (using wrestling parlance, of all things) a “Face-Heel Turn.”

One of the best-known villains in the world of mystery novels has almost no backstory, sympathetic or not, but he is thought to be complex and compelling because, well, he’s basically a villainous version of Sherlock Holmes (I am, of course, referring to Moriarty).

If your villain has a complex, intricate plan, and your reader can follow along with it (even if they may not know the villain’s true end goal), that can make them seem complex and compelling. It’s a method a lot of television shows with a-plot\b-plot formats (the episode has a specific “a” plot that is the focus of that episode’s story, but there’s also elements from an overall seasonal “b” plot) use.

So, there are many ways to create a complex and compelling villain… if you need one.