Ravencon Con-Report

I’m back from Ravencon, rested, and finally ready to type up my experience attending.  A wrap-up of events, if you will.

I will start by listing panels that I wanted to attend, but for one reason or another (usually a conflicting panel, but not always) couldn’t:

  • Genre Blending: The New Weird
  • The Portrayal of Nuclear Power and Engineering in Fiction
  • Urban Fantasy: Using Real-World Settings and People in Your Fiction
  • Critiquing: The Right Way
  • Indie Publishing: Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing
  • Just Line the Last Time, Only Different (a panel on sequels)
  • The Science Behind Science Fiction
  • Alien Worlds and Races
  • After the First Draft:  The Next Step for the Aspiring Writer
  • Finding the Right Publisher
  • Elementary, My Dear Watson
  • The How and Why of Short Stories
  • The Art of the Book: The How, When, and Why of Development
  • Collaborative Writing
  • How to (Not) Ruin Your Writing Career
  • Why Editing Matters
  • Allen L. Wold’s Writers’ Workshop
  • Tips for Aspiring Writers
  • You Did (Not) Attend this Panel in an Alternate Universe
  • It’s Only a Flesh Wound!  Realistic Injuries in SF and Fantasy
  • Why Science Fiction Matters
  • The Business End
  • Baen Traveling Road Show
  • Shooting a Movie Short on a Shoestring
  • Authors vs. Artists Pictionary
  • Successful Indie Publishing: Trick and Traps
  • Writing Critical Hits
  • Plotting and Pacing a Short Story
  • Webcomics/Manga: How to Write a Story
  • Ask A Scientist (this one really hurt to miss)
  • The Eye of Argon (this makes the third time I intended to go to this panel and missed it)
  • Laser Tag
  • Indie Publishing: Marketing Your Work
  • No Right Way to Write: Techniques for New Writers
  • Making Magic Work
  • Things Fantasy Writers and Movie Directors Get Wrong About Horses
  • Webcomics/Manga: How to Find an Artist
  • Let’s Build a Space Habitat
  • Pantsing vs. Plotting
  • If Mary Sue if So Awesome, Why Does Everybody Hate Her
  • Stupid Superhero Powers

There were enough programs in on that list to equal the number of panels I normally find interesting at two (and then some) average conventions.  So, Ravencon is pretty densely packed with programming.

Now, about the panels I actually did manage to attend…

Friday:

I made it to the hotel in time for a belated lunch… which, unfortunately, I couldn’t have in the restaurant itself.  Apparently, the hotel decided that their restaurant should be closed between 1:30pm and 5pm no matter what.  They sent me to a back room (technically a dance club, but there was no dancing at the time) where lunch was slow serviced (they were short-staffed that afternoon, according to the only person working there) but the food was pretty decent.  As was the conversation —  had a chance to chat with a couple other early-arrivers.  I don’t think I ever got their names, and nothing all that memorable was said, but it was nice to start the convention with good company.

After lunch and a quick rest, however, the convention itself began.  The first panel I attended was called “Playing God: Building Your Own World,” with Kate Paulk, Kevin Kelleher, Lawrence Ellsworth, and Mike McPhail.  For a Friday 4pm panel, it was VERY well attended, and quite informative.  I was able to ask a question (which was, effectively, “When mixing together mythologies that each require significant worldbuilding background, how do you put them together without your book becoming bloated?”  The consensus answer was to focus on one mythology per book.  As I was referring primarily to the struggle I had with The Kitsune Stratagem, which features alliances between a family of (Japanese mythology, though I also drew slightly from Korean and Chinese variants) Kitsune and (Shetland Island folktale-based) wulvers, a battle between the aforementioned Kitsune family and (aborigonal Australian folktale-based) Bunyips, and included a quest to find a particular type of (Scandinavian mythology-based) Väki Haltija, I wasn’t able to do that.

Then I went to the Allen Wold Plotting Workshop (distinct from the Writing Workshop, which — as mentioned above — I had to skip).  This is a fun thing to do at most conventions he attends, and I’ve found it is constantly evolving and improving.  At this particular plotting workshop, I came up with the plot for a future book (or maybe just a novella; we’ll see) around the inspiration line of “It all began when he brought a trebuchet to a sword fight.”

Following that was a workshop entitled “Living the Dream: Planning a Sustainable Creative Career,” presented by Rob Balder of Erfworld fame.  Now, when it came to my own career planning, it was largely recap… but he went through how to come up with these plans from different business models.  While my own would be a self-publishing model, he described a so-called “Free Content Model” of artistic-oriented business which brought to mine my mother’s own quilting business.  What notes I took and the worksheets that were handed out I am turning over to her, because I think they could help her with her own business plan.

That turned out to be my last panel of the day (dinner break leading into a longer-than-planned break leading to me just missing the rest of the panels I wanted to go to).  Unfortunately, an “early night” didn’t wind up helping me rest up, as I thought it would — I learned that the hotel’s beds were soft.  Very soft.  Too soft for my comfort; I tossed and turned all night.  Worse, I had set up a morning room-service breakfast so that I would be SURE that I had time for breakfast before the first Saturday panel I wanted to attend at 9am.

That breakfast never showed up.  The hotel staff said I filled out the time on the card wrong (I am suspicious of this, as I was referencing the filled-out card when setting up my wake-up call in the morning, but I won’t argue).  So, on top of almost no sleep, I also had no breakfast.

I rushed into the Science of Cryptozoology panel; given that I write with so many creatures which might be considered cryptids, this panel (presented by L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright, Randy Richards, and Bob Blaskiewicz) should have been very interesting, but I was distracted (I still hadn’t straightened out that issue with room service) and wound up leaving almost twenty minutes early.

Still without breakfast but with things now straightened out, I went to the 10am panel on Writing Dialog.  This was presented by Kate Paulk, Lawrence M. Schoen (accompanied by “Plush Guest of Honor Barry Mantelo“), Lou Antonelli, and Noah McBrayer Jones.  I was most intrigued by the discussion of dialects and how to depict them, and having someone whose background was in acting and screenwriting (Noah McBrayer Jones) in addition to the novelists (two of whom had, or were raised with, very regionally distinctive accents) gave an interesting perspective on the subject.  I have to admit that my attention was wandering at the start of this panel, but by the end I was finally alert enough to follow along, and eventually found myself laughing as the panel became a series of amusing anecdotes on the differences between regional dialects.

I had originally planned for a late lunch, but after missing breakfast I skipped the next hour to attend part of the Tangent Artists room party and nibbled on the snacks they had left out to get me through until then.  There I met someone who I had sat next to during the Hobbit movie trilogy back at the Alamo Drafthouse back in December.  We had an interesting conversation about Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trivia during that marathon (before, during the intermissions, and after), but unfortunately I never got her name.  Despite continued interesting conversation, I STILL never got her name before I had to leave.  Ah, well.

I rushed off (a touch late) to head to a panel entitled “Indie Publishing: The Economics of Self-Publishing.”  It was presented by Chris Kennedy, Christopher Nuttall, Robert Sommers, and Stuart Jaffe.  I probably should have stayed at the Tangent Artists party, or have gone to a different panel, or maybe should have just gone to lunch.  This panel had a lot of good information, but unfortunately all of it was too basic for someone at my current level.  I continue to believe there needs to be some sort of panel for self-publishers that are at an intermediate stage of their career — they’ve successfully released a book or three and know the basics of getting good covers and finding an editor, but they don’t yet have enough books to enact the strategies (“make the first book in a series free and it’ll help sales for the entire series”, for example) that veteran self-publishers with dozens of titles to their name use to attain success.

Following this panel, I went to a workshop entitled “Ignite Your Worldbuilding,” presented by J.T. Glover.  While advertised as a workshop on worldbuilding, it felt more like a discussion of research (and the application of research).  They can be related fields, but they aren’t quite the same.  Ah, well — I suppose that’s what I should have expected from a research librarian.  (Note: My late father was also a research and acquisitions librarian for most of his career.  This is not said to disparage research librarians.  That said, much of his advice was stuff I learned at my father’s knee).

After that workshop, I returned to my hotel room.  I intended to have lunch while watching the Washington Capitals’ playoff game (we lost that game, but later won the series).  Instead, I turned on the game and let my lack of sleep from the previous night catch up to me, falling asleep.  I woke up just in time to see us lose.  *sigh*  I also decided it was high time for me to eat something more than the few snacks I grabbed at the Tangent Artists party, and didn’t get back to the convention proper until 8pm.

The next panel I attended was, um, a mistake.  It isn’t that I didn’t like the panel (I actually was quite interested in the subject matter), I just mixed up which room I was going to; instead of the “Writing Critical Hits” panel in Cove, I wound up at the “Star Wars: Not the Tropes You’re Looking For” in York.  This panel was presented by Darin Kennedy, Genesis Moss, and John C. Wright (there was supposed to be a fourth panelist, but IIRC he never showed), and it was quite interesting… but it wasn’t what I wanted to go to.  By the time I figured out I was at the wrong panel, I decided I might as well stay and enjoy it.

I did promptly rush to my next panel when it was over, which was in the same room of the panel I had INTENDED to go to the first time.  This panel, “Schmoozing 101,” was moderated by Kevin Kelleher and included Ian Randal Strock, KT Pinto, and R.S. Belcher.  Here, I learned the importance of getting booze for other writers.  (Okay, okay — there was actually quite a bit mentioned about socializing and interacting with writers and editors at conventions and the like… but the first piece of advice, and once that was repeated at least twice, was “buy them booze.  Writers\Editors\G.R.R. Martin\etc. never turn down a free drink.”)

After the panel on drinking — I mean Schmoozing — I went to one with the intriguing title of “The Villains Journey,” with a panel of D. Alexander Ward, Emily Lavin Leverett, Jean Marie Ward, and Kate Paulk.  I was sort of expecting a discussion of John Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, and comparing and contrasting it with various well-known villains’ portrayals in books and movies, but that wasn’t what I got.  Instead, it was a more general discussion of how much backstory a villain needs to be a really good villain.

That was the end of my Saturday.  I had planned to attend more panels, but despite my nap in the middle of the day I was worried I wouldn’t be able to stay awake through any more.  I returned to my room, and actually managed to get one good night’s sleep despite the overly-soft hotel beds.  (This was the ONLY night I slept well, mind you; I stayed a day later so that I would be well rested for the return trip, but I wound up tossing and turning most of that night as well).

I slept so well Saturday night that I was late for Sunday morning’s panels.  Between that and not wanting to miss breakfast that day (or rather, “brunch.”  The hotel restaurant switches its normal schedule so that it only has a Sunday Brunch buffet, and then it closes; after that, you can only get room service), I didn’t get to the panels until noon, where I attended a panel called “Visibility 101.”  This panel, with D. Alexander Ward, Gail Z. Martin, Meryl Yourish, and Michael A. Ventrella, was on the all-important authors’ skill of marketing (you know it’s important because there were three panels on the exact same subject, just all with different names).   There was a discussion of whether writers should present their political views (I’m in the camp of the possibly apocryphal Michael Jordan quote, “Republicans Buy Shoes Too“, but I do recognize that many authors have built a following through their politics), suggestions for ways to build interest in the author through blogging and facebook (I need to increase my blog output and find ways to cross-promote with other authors), and a little bit about advertising on Facebook (it has mixed success, at best, though one of the panelists was quite enthusiastic about it).

And then my final panel for the convention, “The Best Critique Group for You.”  Everyone on the panel, and a few people in the audience (note: There were five panelists and six attendees.  The panel got increasingly less formal as it went on), were on previous panels I’d attended (Darin Kennedy, J.T. Glover, Lawrence M. Schoen, Meryl Yourish, and Robert Sommers were the presenters; I recognized and briefly talked with Jean Marie Ward in the audience).  This was mostly a bunch of “bad critique group incident” anecdotes, which were quite amusing, and a few suggestions for things to look for to find a good such group.  (I am familiar with two local critique groups\writers circles.  I THINK one of them would be a good one — I know who runs it and he’s a good guy — but it meets at a time I can’t possibly attend.  The other one… well, let’s just say that I could have contributed to the silly critique group anecdotes if I’d been asked)

The convention trickled to a close after that.  I walked through the dealers room looking for last-minute deals (I didn’t buy anything; probably a good thing, as I’d spent far too much on the convention already) and looked through the lounge to see if anyone interesting was lingering behind (sadly, by the time I got around to it the lounge was empty).

Overall, I had a few problems, but it was a great convention.  Next convention for me:  CapitalCon DC.

Marscon Con-Report

I am pleased to (finally) get around to this convention report.  Since this blog’s debut post, I’ve been too busy putting together my new, improved Convention Calender (see the link in the header, above) to work on this promised write-up.  Then I let this half-finished con report sit, forgotten, in draft form, for a couple weeks.  Oops.  Just to get this thing out there, I’m finishing it off and then posting it as-is, unchecked and unrevised.

Anyway, I arrived at Marscon opening day (I had considered going down to Williamsburg for the convention a day early in order to get a good parking space and get settled in early, and was looking forward to some of the Thursday entertainment they were having for early arrivals, but it turned out that waiting was a good decision — it snowed on Thursday but was clear again by the time I left on Friday).  The Hotel gave me a free upgrade to a larger suite (because it was the only King-sized bedroom available at the time), and after a few hours to catch my breath it was time for the convention.

I skipped opening ceremonies but went to the Baen Travelling Road Show, catching their upcoming releases for the year.  With David Weber in attendence, it turned out to be quite entertaining.  A few titles caught my eye (The Future Wars and Other Punchlines anthology and Catherine Asaro’s Undercity being the two I, er, remembered the titles of well enough to find on Amazon), and I had plenty of fun, but after the show I skipped a lot of programming I had planned to attend in order to eat and rest up some more — the trip down to Williamsburg tired me out more that I’d care to say.

That isn’t to say I ignored all of Marscon’s Friday programming.  Later in the evening I attended a panel entitled “Honor Bound: Working with David Weber.”  I was expecting a panel on collaborating with a (more) famous author; it turned out to be a panel on the history of BuNine Consulting.  Still interesting, but not quite what I was hoping for.

I only managed Saturday morning by having ordered a room service breakfast the night before; I overslept, skipped the 9am panel I had intended to make it to (fortunately, nothing I was particularly interested in), and if I had relied on the Marscon con suite or tried to eat in the restaurant I would probably have missed the 10am slot as well.  (Incidentally, I found the food at the Fort Magruder Hotel was significantly better this year than last year’s Marscon; it wasn’t fine dining, by any stretch, but nothing was overcooked or dry or whatnot like it was, sometimes, last year)

The 10am slot of panels included five panels I would have liked to attend.  Unable to be in five places at once, I skipped the Allen Wold Writer Workshop, Star Trek Roundtable, Myths and Realities of Fantasy Combat panel, and the Starships 101 panel in order to go to “The Care and Feeding of an Author” panel (featuring the Author Guest of Honor, David Weber, the YA Author Guest of Honor, Katherine Kurtz, and their respective significant others).  Again, not quite what I expected (there was a lot less about the sort of diet and exercise a writer needs to have, and more droll anecdotes about working with bad copy editors and the authors’ family members’ wondering whether a writer playing computer games is brainstorming or merely procrastinating).  I enjoyed myself, but I might have found many of those other panels a lot more useful.

The next panel I remember getting to (it’s now been over two weeks since I last worked on this thing) was the Pets in Science Fiction panel.  It might have been interesting, but the moderator was horribly distracted by her children (who were heckling her from the audience).  I had seen this moderator on other panels, and she’s usually an interesting guest, but the heckling kind of ruined things.

This panel was immediately followed, however, by a related panel on Horses in Fantasy and Science Fiction.  There was still a problem with this panel — it never ACTUALLY related horses specifically to Fantasy, though it did refute a few myths about horses generally found in all types of fiction — but it was very amusing, nonetheless, as two particular horse ranchers talked extensively about horse behavior.

That was pretty much it for Saturday — for some odd reason (that, from what I can tell, was unrelated to the wedding which took place at the convention, though that was my first thought), a lot of the non-musical-oriented programming ended after 6PM.  I participated in Marscon Match Guest (an audience-as-players sci-fi variant of the classic Match Game, featuring various convention guests as the celebrities) and came in second place.  I slipped down to the halls and lobby area so I could look at some of the costumes.  And I met a few times with the head of the new CapitalCon venture (though I only had time to do more than wave in passing once).

That left Sunday, which actually turned out to be one of the best “last days” of a convention I can remember.  Usually, Sunday programming is pretty sparse, and this was no exception, but both panels I attended this day were quite fun.

There was a sort of interactive worldbuilding game involving eight guests (including the aforementioned GOH, David Weber, and several other colorful characters) building a world based on suggestions by the moderator and incorporating elements from the audience.  I’m afraid I’m the person responsible for inflicting both worths with the horrible medical condition of exploding eyeballs.  Actually, I just wanted to work “eyeballs” in somewhere (this goes back to the sixth grade, when I challenged a fellow student to give me any word and I would write a story around it.  He gave me the word eyeball; I’ve been regretting the story I came up with ever since), but the guests took it and ran with it.  I can’t really do justice to the worlds that the two teams of authors managed to come up with, but if you’re on Facebook and have the right permissions you might want to check out James Beall’s take. (remember to cycle through the pictures for the whole story)

Then there was the Allen Wold Plotting Workshop.  This is different than his regular Writing Workshop (a two day event focusing on the first hundred words, or the “hook,” of your story), focusing instead on creating characters, settings, obstacles, etc.  While the regular writing workshop, which I’ve been to at several conventions, is fun (I make it a point of going any chance I can, provided there are no scheduling conflicts), and offers constructive criticism from a panel of writing veterans, I think this one is the more useful at this stage in my career.  I may very well have saved a science fiction novel I had written and abandoned half-way through (because I learned that my plot was far, far too close to the plot of Timothy Zahn’s “Night Train to Rigel,” a book I had never read), allowing me to take what I’d written and revamp the plot to something more original.  One of these days, I may even be able to get back to it… but I think I need to complete “In Forgery Divided” first, at a minimum.

And, when Marscon was over, I was able to go out to dinner with Williamsburg-local family members — a part of the family I used to see quite frequently, but (to my regret) only see about once a year, nowadays.  Had a wonderful meal (though I forget the name of the restaurant) and no-one complained about my convention-induced mental fatigue.

A few bumps in the road, but I even enjoyed the panels that weren’t what I was expecting.  Overall, a wonderful time, and I hope to go back.

Welcome to the inagural “David A. Tatum Verbatim” Blog Post

I’ve had this blog set up for a couple months, now, but I haven’t posted anything because I was hoping to make it a really “Big” post.  However, I’ve been too busy to really bother making anything “Big,” so my blog has just been sitting here with the default “Hello World” post for days.  I’ve come to the conclusion that I should just quit waiting for the chance to write a “Big” post, and just post, well, anything.

I plan to use this blog for several things:

  1. Occasional status reports on my writing projects
  2. Discussion of my writing philosophy (because it seems every writer who had a blog occasionally talks about either the “how-to” or the business of writing).
  3. Book release announcements.
  4. Fennec Fox Press news (for ex., I’m considering opening an online storefront; if that comes out, expect an announcement here)
  5. Convention Reports (I attend 2-4 conventions a year)
  6. Possibly occasional “interviews” with other writers, characters, etc., if I ever find anyone interested.
  7. Maybe some sports commentary (I’m a hockey fan.  My team is the Washington Capitals.  You can laugh or commiserate as appropriate).
  8. Miscellaneous ramblings.

So, coming tomorrow (I know I said on Facebook it would be today, but after writing it all up I accidentally deleted it and will have to start over; I’m still learning this blogging software), I will be using this blog for #5 on that list with my Convention Report on Marscon 2015.

I may also be moving my Convention Calender over from the Fennec Fox Press site to this blog; the software I’ve been using there has gotten too buggy to regularly update that calender, and there may be a plug-in for this site that will work better.  I’ll test a few of those out over the next few days, so you may see it appear and disappear from this site over the next few weeks.