Ravencon Panels (I DID do): Why I DIDN’T Get a Book Launched

This was supposed to be a post on my first Ravencon Panel, “Swords Not Required.”  Those panel posts are going to be very long, however, and for various reasons this was a short week for me.  So, I figured I’d explain some things I didn’t get around to in last weeks post.

I mentioned during most of my panels that I would have had another book (a sci-fi novel) out, but I had to reject the cover art a month ago and therefore it was delayed.  That was… uh, not the full story (to put it mildly), but there was too much to discuss when just introducing myself.  But I can expound on it here, without restriction.

While I did not ask the convention for a book launch space, back around January I was hoping to launch a book at Ravencon.  That book was the long-delayed The Merrimack Event, which I’ve been talking about on this blog for years (literally).  It is a novel that’s actually older than my first-released novel (In Treachery Forged) but has been in the self-publishing version of development hell since before I filed the DBA for Fennec Fox Press.

I approached an editor for it; I checked him out, found I liked his style, negotiated a price for his service, and… he disappeared before signing the contract we’d agreed to.  Vanished off the internet, never responded to any more e-mails, etc.  I hadn’t paid him, nor had he seen the full manuscript, so it’s not like he was stealing from me… he just, well, vanished.

I like having different editors and cover artists for each novel series; I’d not had the time to investigate new editors, and every cover artist I queried with this book in mind (just to see if they were available, not even yet mentioning the project) never gave me any reply at all.

But around January, things were looking up.  It may have been piecemeal using beta readers, it may have been done in fits and starts, it may have partially been edited through a self-editing procedure I would normally never do because it was too labor intensive, but The Merrimack Event had reached a level of “edited” that I felt it was acceptable for release.  There were some minor tweaks that still needed to be done before the book could be built, but those tweaks were the equivalent of running a last spellcheck and fixing a few minor inconsistencies brought about through all the various edits.  The book could be released within days… if I could get cover art.

Then my budget was hit after I broke a tooth (or rather re-broke a tooth that had previously been repaired), and the money for the cover art went away.  I could pull the money from somewhere else, but that would slow one of my other projects.  However!  I had an option.  A professional artist was willing to do the cover for free (well, sort of; no money was to change hands, anyway).  Book covers weren’t their usual medium, but I’ve had success using artists who didn’t specialize in covers in the past.  So I said yes.

Unfortunately, come the start of April, their cover proposal showed up and was unacceptable.  It wasn’t completely hopeless, but you could tell this wasn’t the artist’s usual medium.  I tried working with the artist to maybe get it revised into something acceptable.  While things were getting closer and closer, I could tell the artist was getting frustrated.  I was struggling to get them to make the right changes (I am not an artist, myself; I have enough of an eye that I could see a problem, but I wasn’t sure how to explain that problem so that the artist would understand what I wanted).  I was taking more and more of their time away from the art projects they usually did.  Finally, I decided enough was enough; I pulled the plug and rejected the cover completely.

That’s not the end of the story, though.  There was still a month before the convention.  Both my mother (a professional quilt artist) AND my brother (who, for his first few years of college, studied mechanical design) decided they would make a go at trying to put something together; I might not have been able to get the print book out at that point, but if I could get an acceptable cover by the 25th I could submit the eBook and it would be for sale by the start of the convention.  Both of the cover proposals I received from them had possibilities, but both would need work… just like the first cover option did.  I didn’t want to go through all that again, so I just said “no” to both covers.  I’ve re-established a budget.  I’ll be hiring a professional cover artist… IF I can ever get one to reply to my e-mails, and then the book will (FINALLY) be out.

Incidentally, I had other observations from Ravencon which didn’t fit into last weeks recap:

  1.  I had produced some swag, but most of the other authors had much more than me.
  2. I did not ask for any book signing or reading times (during which an author can sell their book), nor did I rent a table in author alley to sell my books from, but maybe I should have (though I might need to replace my phone to something that will allow the use of a credit card reader, first).
  3. I was a little worried that I didn’t have the ‘pedigree’ to be a guest, but there were a number of guests at Ravencon who had the same sort of writing portfolio I had.
  4. Apparently, the end of April is the wrong time of the year for me to go down to Williamsburg; I have a lot of family in the area, but none of them were able to see me while I was there due to scheduling conflicts.  I like Ravencon, and plan to return, but maybe I should look into other conventions the area as well.
  5. I still need a name for my mascot fennec fox (stuffed animal).  Fortunately, no-one asked me what his name was when I was wearing him on my badge lanyard all weekend.

And… well, that’s it.  I’ll get that first “panel” page out next week, hopefully.  Until then….

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 AM Doing: Next Week’s Schedule

So, Ravencon is next weekend (so I PROBABLY won’t be doing a post next weekend for that reason, but there is a chance; more on that later), which means I’ve run out of time for the series on Ravencon Panels (I’m NOT Doing) so I can talk about the Ravencon Panels I AM doing.

The schedule may still change (I’ve been at enough conventions to know that schedules sometimes get altered minutes before the panel begins, though I haven’t known Ravencon to be quite that bad), but it’s as set as it ever is.  So, if you’re at the convention and want to find me, here are the panels I’m on (complete with current room locations (the most likely thing to change), Amazon links to my fellow panelists, and the panel descriptions:

I. Swords Not Required
Location:  Room G
Time:  Friday, 6pm-7pm
Guests:  Nancy Northcott, Jeanne Adams, Charles E. Gannon, and myself (Moderating).

Panelists discuss ways to arm characters in fantasy worlds without always relying on swords.

(Yes, I’m moderating my first panel at my first pro-appearance at a convention.  Gulp)

II. Mythology as the Basis for Speculative Fiction
Location:  Room 8
Time:  Friday, 10pm-11pm
Guests:  Mercedes Lackey, Bishop O’Connell (moderating), Christopher L. Smith, Jennifer R. Povey, and myself

Our panelists take a look at mythologies around the world; discussing their similarities and why some of them are so appealing to modern speculative fiction authors. Should myths be updated for a modern audience, or do you respect them as canon and hold to their roots? Does an understanding of mythology make better speculative fiction, and what is its current role within SF writing?

III.  Using Tropes to Tell Stories
Location:  Room 8
Time:  Saturday, 9am-10am
Guests:  Jim Bernheimer (moderating), R.S. Belcher, Bishop O’Connell, and myself

Cliches in fantasy and science fiction are a big no-no… except when they aren’t. The internet contains a lot of rants against tropes, but are tropes really that bad? What happens to a fantasy story that tries to avoid every trope? Is such a story revolutionary or unmarketable? Is it even doable? Panelists discuss the use and avoidance of tropes in developing storylines. What are the most-used tropes in SF/F? Why are they so overused? Are they always bad? Are there ways they can be twisted to say new things about the genre?

IV.  Building Worlds for Fiction
Location:  Room G
Time:  Saturday, 11am-12pm
Guests:  Dave Joria, Rob Balder, Mark Wandrey (moderator), and myself

Building a comprehensive world—whether it is for a novel, comic, or serial—can be a huge challenge. Join our panelists as they discuss tools, strategies, and both successes and failures in world-building.

V.  Self-Publishing 2017
Location:  Room G
Time:  Saturday, 3pm-4pm
Guests:  Philippa “Pip” Ballentine, Alex Matsuo (Moderating), Toi Thomas, Thomas A. Mays, and myself

This panel discusses today’s self-publishing options and business models. Our panelists include authors who are both self- and traditionally published, in fiction and nonfiction, including people who are making an income entirely by self-publishing. We’ll discuss why we made the choice to self-publish, the pitfalls and lessons learned, and which business choices we’ve made on our respective self-publishing efforts.

VI.  Mechanics of Magic in Fantasy & SF
Location:  Room E
Time:  5-6pm
Guests:  Joe Wetmore, myself, Jeanne Adams, Nancy Northcott (Moderating)

Does a magical system for a story need rules? Costs, unintended consequences, social factors? What about reliability issues? How can we avoid worn-out tropes? How should magic in an RPG and story differ? Is some of the tech in SF “magic” and should the same considerations apply?

So that’s six panels, including a couple alongside the guests of honor.  Not bad for my first convention as a pro.

There are still quite a few panels that I’m NOT doing that are on topics I’m interested in.  I mean, I made up a schedule for myself, and if I did all the panels I’m scheduled for AND went to all the other panels I’m interested in, I would have a grand total of one one-hour break during the entire weekend (not happening; while I’ll be poking my nose into some of those panels as a fan, I’d wear myself out AND starve for the weekend if I tried going to all of them).  Unfortunately, if I haven’t gotten to those panel topics on this blog by now, I’m probably not going to any time soon, as I’m going to move into the Ravencon panel topics I will have actually been on.

I’d been trying to get The Merrimack Event done by Ravencon itself, but the cover art is going to be late (among other issues) and I don’t know if I’ll be able to finish building the book in time, even if it shows up between now and then.  I haven’t been talking about the possibility that often because, without the book cover, I don’t have anything I can show you guys… so maybe, if I DO get a blog post out next week, it will be with a Surprise! Book Release! Announcement.  (Heck, I don’t have anything scheduled for Sunday, currently, even if I’ll still be at the hotel… if the cover art comes in, and everything else is ready, I might spend the day putting the book together).  If not… well, it’s not like I asked Ravencon to fit a Book Launch into the schedule… (I thought about it, but thankfully didn’t; that would have been a mess).

And then, the next weekend following the convention, maybe I’ll start a new series:  Ravencon Panels (I DID Do):  My Final (?) Words.

Edit:  The convention is now over, and comments are closed because spambots keep trying to spam the comment section.

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.

Ravencon Panels (I’m Not Doing): Editors, Publishers, and Readers: What Rules to Break and Which Ones Don’t Apply

This is the fourth in my series of blogs on panels at Ravencon I’m NOT doing (of note, I’m keeping track of the schedule changes as they happen, and it appears there are a few more panels I’m NOT doing.  I started out scheduled for seven panels; the schedule is still changing, so I don’t know what the total will be, but it looks like I’ll be on fewer than that).  For further explanation, see my earlier blog here.

Editors, Publishers, and Readers: What Rules to Break and Which Ones Don’t Apply

Okay, this is a topic I might have considered being a panelist for (in fact, I’ve touched elements of it on this blog before), but it’s running opposite of another panel I’m scheduled for. So… let’s talk about it, here.

The panel is officially described as:

Many new authors have heard the rules: One POV per scene, don’t use adverbs, Limit the POVs to no more than three per story. These “rules” have been taught for over a hundred years, but who came up with them and do they still apply to the modern reader?

So, let’s cover some of these rules, shall we?

The panel description mentions:

A.  One POV per Scene:
Your options with Point of View are determined by your perspective.  In first person (unless you’re writing first person omniscient, which is… uh… possible, but unusual) changing POV mid-scene is, well, NOT something that can be done — a story written in first person is, by definition, one written from a single point of view (the narrator).
Third person unlimited perspective is all about head hopping.  The narrator knows everything, including what everyone thinks.  If you know what everyone thinks, there is no head hopping.
And 3rd person limited perspective does its best to mimic first person POV, but allows you to change that perspective between scenes.  So, in theory, no POV changes… aka, no head hopping should happen.
But sometimes, it’s unavoidable; you write a scene entirely from a certain character’s perspective, but then you need one more sentence to show something that happens the moment he leaves the scene, or when he’s not looking.  The question becomes:  Do you break the scene for a single brief sentence or two, or do you head hop?
You can BREAK THE RULE (gasp!) and head hop, like many authors do (including, infamously, one of the most successful writers in the world (Nora Roberts)), or you can follow the rule and make a one sentence scene to show that little thing, as many other successful writers would.  You’re the author.  As long as readers can tell which character’s perspective is in use at any one time, they won’t complain.

B.  Don’t Use Adverbs:
If you use significantly more adverbs than your story can support, then it can read really weird.  Usually, this can make the writing appear slightly weak.  Oddly enough, a significantly large number of writers actually use adverbs even while frequently protesting their use.
The thing is, an overuse of adverbs really does make your writing weaker (as seen in the paragraph above).  Moderate use of them, however, can be a powerful tool in the writer’s arsenal.

C.  Limit the POVs to no more than three per story:
I’ve never heard this rule, to be honest.  I can’t really comment on it, other than to say… really?  No, don’t bother with this rule.  Well, I suppose if you have a different point of view for every scene, and your 400 page book averages two or three scenes every page, and you have a new POV for EVERY SINGLE SCENE, that would be… hard to parse (though if you ever wanted to try your hand at experimental literature, there’s a suggestion for you to experiment with).  Again, moderation is key.

I could go on, citing rules from the likes of Stephen King and Elmore Leonard, but I think I’ve made my point.  The “rules” you see do come from somewhere, usually, but are usually overstated.  If you’re just careful in how you break them and apply a little moderation, you can get around just about any one of the so-called “rules of writing” that you hear.

The truth (as Kristine Kathryn Rusch points out here) is that no-one but authors think much about these rules beyond that bit of moderation and care.  That’s not to say there are no rules anyone should ever follow (you should pay attention to your grammar, although even there you have some flexibility — the University of Chicago, APA, MLA, Strunk and White, Harcourt’s, etc. disagree on several key issues; many publishing houses have their own “house style” that compiles elements of some or all of these.  And that’s just using American English — factor in the variances caused by the British and Australians (and possibly others, but those are the two I know of) having enough variance in the dialects to have their own set of grammar styles, and you’ll realize that you have a lot of options.  I’ve got my own house style, even, which I will be editing all of my works to.  Eventually.  In software parlance it’s still in Alpha, so it’ll be a while before I do that)

So, the rules exist for a reason… but the rules are also made to be broken.

Ravencon Panels (I’m Not Doing): Gearing Up For War

This is the fourth in my series of blogs on panels at Ravencon I’m NOT doing.  For further explanation, see my earlier blog here.

GEARING UP FOR WAR

This panel is described in the (still just a draft) write-up as “Depending on the time period, terrain, and the nature of the fight, you’re going to need different kinds of kit. We’ll discuss how human beings prepare for battle physically and mentally — and what that says about their society.” I really feel under-qualified for the topic of mental and physical preparation, and I don’t even want to touch the one about what these preparations “say about society” (talk about a land mine for those of us who try to maintain politically neutral public faces!).

But discussing military kit? That I can do, if only from the perspective of a military history buff who’s done enough research into this topic to know (at one time) what people were supposed to receive in a few historic kits by heart. (Okay, so, um, my focus was the history of the US Sailing Navy, but sailors needed kits, too!  And it has been a while since I last studied this, so don’t test me; I probably can’t recite everything from memory, any more)

Now, one of the things to remember is that, until the last century or so, a soldier’s “kit” was largely theoretical. Some bureaucrat somewhere would write up a list of what was supposed to be in a soldier’s kit and set a budget (usually below what was actually needed) for obtaining these supplies; some lesser bureaucrat elsewhere would receive the money to put these kits together, skim some of it off the top, and then toss it down the chain. Each toss down the chain to the next layer of government usually meant less money for each kit, to the point that soldiers and sailors rarely received much the kit they were assigned.

But, for the sake of our sanity, let’s talk about what was SUPPOSED to be issued to soldiers and sailors throughout the various eras we have records for… and we have records, in some cases, dating back to Roman times.  Sometimes the government paid for these kits, sometimes the soldier or sailor were responsible for paying for these things themselves; sometimes the kit was required to fit a uniform standard and design, and sometimes the soldier or sailor (or, especially, feudal lords\knights) could customize or fit themselves out on their own, and sometimes some things were provided and you had to pay for others.  Usually, the only ‘advantage’ of paying for your own kit is the ability to customize things.

Regardless, whether you were a Roman Soldier or a member of the modern military, there are several things which are common to every soldier’s (or sailor’s) kits:

Some form of weaponry.  Whether that’s swords, spears, bows and arrows, or firearms, you would get a weapon (sometimes more than one).  At times in history, the weapons would not actually be issued with the kit, but handed out right before battle; regardless a weapon of some type should be considered part of the kit.

Body armor.  Note that this isn’t always a part of your kit; early Roman infantry soldiers wore none to increase speed and ease of movement (and as a cost-cutting measure), though later on various different types of armor were developed and issued.  Sailors from the Napoleanic era certainly didn’t wear armor into battle (though Spanish officers sometimes did).  Frequently, armor was something the soldier would have to pay for out of his own pocket (or get docked out of his pay), as it often had to be custom-fit to the person wearing it.  Today, soldiers are usually issued body armor (bulletproof vests) as part of their kit, though occasionally soldiers may purchase “civilian” gear if the issued equipment is defective or insufficient and replacement gear is slow to arrive (this is technically not permitted in the US Army, but the rule has been relaxed and\or ignored at various times of crisis).

An “entrenching tool” (aka, a shovel) were part of most soldiers kits (though not most sailors, as you obviously aren’t going to be digging through your wooden ship’s decking; in its place, however, sailors were issued tools for splicing rope or similar Naval tasks).  A soldier needed his shovel to be able to dig out camp latrines, dig in temporary fortifications and trenches, and more.  Plus, they could work as a backup weapon in a pinch.

Usually, soldiers were also issued clothing.  This could be something as simple as basic livery to go over your armor, or multiple types of uniform for use in different times of the year and on different occasions.  This can include not just the obvious uniform pieces, but also things like socks, shoes, underwear, belts, etc.

A water containment device (whether that’s a waterskin, a canteen, or something else).

Cooking gear of some sort.  You might not have the tools for gourmet cooking on hand, but some way to build a fire and hold food over that fire is quite handy.  You also need some method of eating food given to you, so a bowl for soups and stews, a spoon, a knife, a fork if they’ve been invented… that kind of thing.

An axe or saw for cutting wood.  Because you need some way of getting fuel for those cooking fires.

A satchel\backpack\bag of some kind.  Because you’ve got a lot of gear you need to carry around.

Bedding.  This could be anything from just a simple blanket to a full-on kit for a tent, a sleeping bag, a rain tarp, and more.  The most original bit of bedding kit I recall is from the American Civil War, where soldiers were each issued HALF of a two-person tent; if your buddy lost his gear, you were out of luck.

Frequently, sewing supplies were a part of a soldier’s kit.  Soldiers and sailors were responsible for the maintenance of their clothing, so having a needle and thread were handy.  Plus, it gave you something to do in your downtime.  Macramé may popularly be thought to have its origins in the fringe work of arabic carpets, and in modern times is often stereotypically found in some hippie peacenik fashions, but making it was an extremely popular hobby among 17th, 18th, and 19th century sailors.

Finally, most soldiers starting out get a small supply of consumables — some hard tack biscuits or similar emergency rations, a half-a pint of rum a day (usually watered down into grog on shipboard), gunpowder when needed to support a black powder weapon, oils for maintaining equipment, soaps for keeping clean, etc.  How regularly these consumables were replaced (or whether they were replaced at all) varied from army to army.

Specific parts of the military might get special items, as well.  For example, if you were in the horse cavalry, you’d probably get special gear for your horse (while I know this is true, I’m fuzzy on the particulars of what would be issued).  Scouts might be issued some form of looking glass (binoculars, special sights, etc.).  Etc.

Of course, even if the military provides all of that, there were still things soldiers and sailors loved to add to their kit whenever possible.  Games (such as chess sets), cards, small musical instruments, and other material designed for entertainment were often more of a necessity than the shovels, cooking gear, and spare underwear, but rarely would any government service give them to their soldiers for free.

And if you’re a writer, you may need to add a few more unusual items to the kit, depending on genre.  I mean, if you’re writing a sword and sorcery, any magical characters may require certain components for ammo.  In certain science fiction universes (think Star Trek), some sort of portable sensor (think tricorder) would likely be a part of your kit.  That sort of thing.

As a writer, you may never need to let your readers know everything that’s in your fictional character’s kit, but it’s generally a good idea to keep track of the resources your character has as a writer.  Otherwise, you might wind up in a situation where your character has a ridiculous number of little-used items (like, say, Bat Shark-Repellant) that can turn the whole thing into a joke.  And it’s a good idea to get some idea of how much a soldier can store on themselves — it’s probably more than you think, but less than you want — while composing your characters’ kits.

Of course, like every other bit of writing advice you might receive, it’s not a hard and fast rule.  After all, the 1960s Batman is still a popular cultural icon, Bat Shark-Repellant and all…

Edit:  Comments closed due to multiple spam attempts.  E-mail me if you want it re-opened.

Ravencon Panels (I’m Not Doing): Where Do You Get Your Ideas From?

This is the third in my series of blogs on panels at Ravencon I’m NOT doing.  For further explanation, see my earlier blog here.

WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR IDEAS FROM?

When people find out my mother is a professional art quilter, they almost always say, “Oh!  My grandmother was a quilter!”  And maybe they’ll follow that up with something about patchwork scraps or the like.  Note that my mother uses computer-aided design, state-of-the-art quilting machines, laser-guidance, and all kinds of things your average grandmother-the-quilter would never bother using for a hand-stitched patchwork quilt (nor would my mother, for that matter; they’d be unnecessary).  My mother usually gives some form of “smile and nod” type response, knowing there is no real comparison between what she does and that.

As a writer, there are certain things you hear all the time that the best response is a similar “smile and nod.”  Among them are “Oh, I’d like to write a book some day.  My memoirs would be fascinating!” (The people who live lives interesting enough to make good memoirs are often too busy living those lives to think about writing them) and “Oh, you wrote a book?  Anything I might have read?” (How would we know?  Usually, we don’t even know these people well enough to know whether they read at all, much less if they might possibly have read anything we wrote).

Another question we often have to deal with in the topic of this Ravencon panel:  “Where do you get your ideas?”  And often, as a writer, the answer is a smile, a nod, and some pithy nonsense answer.  Sometimes we’ll expound on it, and yes, following whatever we suggest WILL (usually) give you some ideas.

But here’s the thing:  If you’ve been writing for a while (like I have, and most writers who’ve published have), coming up with new ideas isn’t the problem.  The problem is we have so many ideas that it’s impossible to get around to them all, and usually coming up with an answer to that question gives us even more.

Because ideas come from everywhere, and are in everything we do.  Do you want to know where the ideas have come from for things I’ve written (published and not published)?

  1. I was in the sixth grade.  Inspired by a character from the Danny Dunn books, I challenged some kids in my class to give me a word, any word, and I’d give them a story around it.  The word they gave me was eyeballs.  I gave them a story involving mutant eyeballs taking over the town.  Sadly, like everything else I wrote in my school years, it was lost (at least the handwritten stuff, like this thing; the schools were supposed to keep permanent records of everything I wrote that would follow me from elementary to junior high to high school.  Come high school, my file was “misplaced.”  Shame, that — while none of it was usable at all, some of it might have been worth saving to re-visit some day).
  2. Back when I was in high school, I had a teacher that said “You cannot write from a 1st person omniscient perspective.”  I suddenly felt challenged to write a story in the first person omniscient perspective whose main character was a mind reader.  (This resulted in a short piece, almost flash, that I still plan to publish if I ever find somewhere for it… but it’s far too small to publish on its own, and I have nothing to group it with)
  3. I was in a college.  I had been assigned to read Oedipus Rex for a class.  This was the fourth or fifth time I was being required to read this “classic” piece of dreck.  I heard for the first time, however (and I’ve never bothered to confirm it) that the three plays that are the current “Oedipus Trilogy” are actually the only three survivors of a set of NINE plays (3 interconnected trilogies).  So, to try and get myself through reading the play again, I used it as research for a new prequel (perhaps explaining just why the gods entrapped Jocasta and Oedipus so horribly).
  4. A discussion about whether axes would really be a good weapon for stock-fantasy-race Dwarves, and if so why (and\or in what situations), and if not what really would be a good weapon for them.  This contributed to In Treachery Forged (but was not the sole idea behind that story).
  5. Back before self-publishing became viable (or at least before I recognized the opportunity), I was trying to go for a traditional publishing deal.  I used many tools to find possible places to submit my books and short stories, including a book (the Writer’s Marketplace) which listed what genres each publisher was looking for.  There was one particular publisher which noted they mostly did non-fiction, but they did publish four novels each year “focusing on caves and spelunking.”  I came up with an idea for a story of a fictional cave — whose layout and general location would be based on a composite of the three or four different caves I have been spelunking in — that had been involved in numerous incidents over the millennia (a prehistoric man’s home, a refuge during the civil war, a boy scout-esque educational trip, and more), the cave itself unchanging.  Unfinished; as a compilation of short stories (I’m even slower in the short form than I am writing novels) it’s a slog.  I haven’t given up on it, but it’s very low priority.
  6. I saw one too many anime and cartoons where characters existed who had hair over their eyes.  I started wondering why someone would have that hairstyle.  (Inspiration for Euleilla from In Treachery Forged)
  7. As I’ve said before, The Kitsune Stratagem came about because I ran into too many people who were saying “Elves and Dwarves are so overplayed!  If I see another book with an elf in it I’m going to throw it across the room!” (and similar sentiments).  I figured I’d see just how overplayed it came across if I tried a similar story to one I would have written using Elves and Dwarves and Dragons. but instead substituted in other types of fantastical creatures (in this case, Kitsune and Wulvers and Bunyips, oh my!)
  8. I was watching some long-forgotten TV show where there was a discussion of sawed-off shotguns.  I started wondering what the fantasy equivalent would be.  The resulting story will be appearing in the upcoming World’s Enough anthology, due to be published in time for a launch party at Balticon (May 26-29).  Since I’m not the one who set that schedule, there’s a slim chance it’ll actually be released on time.
  9. Getting a bit silly, and instead of saying the phrase “he brought a knife to a gun fight” I replaced it with “he brought a trebuchet to a sword fight.”  Something unfinished and put off for a while, but maybe I’ll get around to it some time.
  10. I wanted a non-stereotypical hero (think someone like Porkins in Star Wars) in a space-based science fiction novel.  I wrote about half of it before I learned that my plot was almost identical to Night Train to Rigel.  (Well, maybe it was Slow Train to Arcturus.  I always mix those two up)  I liked what I had, but I decided I needed to re-plot the whole thing, so it’s waiting for a while.
  11. I was watching a hockey game, and started wondering how hockey would be played in space.  That was the origin of the Rink of War.
  12. While researching the California gold rush (for the Rink of War), I read the story of real-life character Emperor Norton.  I thought about bringing someone like him into a sci-fi boom-town setting.  The result (Emperor Norton II) makes a brief appearance in the Rink of War, but was a central figure in the sequels… of which four are mostly written, but since there was so little interest in the Rink of War itself I’ve abandoned that project.  I may revisit it, some day, retooling the planned series of shorts (short stories, novelettes, and novellas) as a full length novel.

I could go on.  And on.  And on.  My full idea bank of unwritten\unfinished stories (even just the ones I’ve made some effort to plot out or take notes on) would be ten, twenty, a hundred times that long.  So, yeah.  The idea that ideas are hard to come by seems… alien to me.  Which might be why I didn’t sign up for this panel in the first place….

Edit:  Comments closed because of multiple spam attempts.

Ravencon Panels (I’m Not Doing): Daily Life in Fantasy Settings

This is the second part of a blog series about panels on the upcoming Ravencon panels, specifically the ones I didn’t sign up for that nevertheless look interesting.  For a more complete description, see the first post here.

DAILY LIFE IN FANTASY SETTINGS

The (draft version, so if you get a hold of the program book and the description is different, it’s because things have changed between now and then) description of this panel is “Economics, food and where it comes from, spiritual systems, laws – all things that impact our daily lives but often get glossed over in fantasy world-building. Let’s take a deep dive in building daily lives in fantasy worlds.”

This.  Is.  A.  FASCINATING.  Topic.  Had I seen it when the sign-up sheet was sent out, I would have signed up for it in a second (it was easy to miss, mind you — the sign-up sheet included almost five hundred panels, some of which were miscatalogued (there will not be five hundred panels at the convention; about three out of every four panels didn’t make it to the final list).  There were probably other panels I would have loved to do that I missed, but of those that made it to the schedule this is the one I regret not seeing the most).

Now, there is a term in writing fiction called “worldbuilding,” which refers to establishing the rules of your fictional world.  Figuring out the daily life of your characters is all worldbuilding.

There are a lot of factors to consider before you can even start to come up with a character’s daily life.  Is your fantasy novel in a real world setting?  If so, the key is researching what daily life was really like in that setting.  Simple (well, not really, but at least simple to say).  If not, you have several questions you need to answer (because no one else will):

What do you want to use as your fantasy world’s tech base? This is important because it can effect… well, everything.  A Roman-era tech base might give you flush toilets (of a sort) but you might not have had pasta (as we understand it today, anyway).  A medieval farmer would practice crop rotation; that is, he would have his farmland divided into three sections, one left fallow while the other two grew different crops; a Roman-era farmer also practice crop rotation, but would only have two fields (one fallow, one with a single crop).  An early-mid 20th century farmer would still be practicing crop rotation, with any number of different crop fields and nothing left fallow, but in some of those fields he would be growing crops that he knows would restore the nutrients in the soil (thanks, George Washington Carver!)  A late 20th century farmer might, however, move on from crop rotation to use specially formulated fertilizers that would do roughly the same thing.

In my fantasy books, I want as much flexibility as possible, so I generally have a policy that any technology is fair game… unless it requires electricity, modern chemistry, or gunpowder to discover it and\or make it work.  This means I can have characters using flush toilets after eating a large pasta dinner, if I want.  But I could also restrict myself to only those technologies that were available in specific places during specific eras… which means I might have a culture that could eat pasta, but then would have to go in the woods rather than at a flush toilet.

Is your fantasy world in a dark ages (or has it recently emerged from a dark ages)?  Then it’s possible that your characters might be required to live one way, but might find or use artifacts from a more advanced version of their same culture.

I use this in my own books; the world of The Kitsune Stratagem is still emerging from a dark age society, and a lot of technology (and the entire field of magic, but we’ll discuss that later) has been lost and is slowly being re-discovered; for example, they have ancient roads they’re trying to maintain, but until recently they didn’t know how they were built in the first place.  Towards the end of In Forgery Divided I show that my (other) fantasy world has also experienced a dark age, and while the events that caused it ended some time before there is still evidence of it:  The characters have to travel using transportation from an ancient Dwarven tunnel system… using steam-powered mining carts (which didn’t exist in the real world until the 1830s) that the modern Dwarves aren’t able to re-build.  The only way to get to that system involves a steam-powered lock very similar to something Hero(n) of Alexandria developed for pagan temples in Ancient Rome… a technology that in rea life, from what I can tell, was lost even before the dark ages began.

Technology isn’t the only thing.  Do you have multiple fantasy races?  Is there some degree of inequality between the races (or sexes, or whatever… but that’s trending towards a political discussion, and I want to keep politics off my blog)?  Well, you can justify anything in this regard, if you need to, but you need to make this decision before you start writing.  You can’t go three hundred pages in your book with your male human and your female dwarf fighting side-by-side, drinking together, meeting royalty together, etc. with nary a word about their differences, and then suddenly the inn won’t allow your female dwarf inside because “we don’t serve their kind, here!”  Not unless you’ve moved your characters into a new culture, which might have different rules (but then you need to establish the rules of THAT culture, instead).

Then we start moving into style.  What do things look like in your world?  Borrowing from the real world makes a lot of sense, but takes a lot of research.

Take architecture, for example.  You can’t say a building uses Tudor-style architecture if there were no Tudors in your fantasy world; you need to know the buildings are (usually) waddle-and-daub built into timber frames.  And you need to know the consequence of the material you’re using; if the buildings are built using “pink” bricks, your characters are probably living in an iron-rich area.

Alternatively, you could create your own construction material, but you still need to know some details about how it works.  In the aforementioned In Forgery Divided, I introduce the idea of Ancient Elves making buildings out of giant crystals.  How were these crystals formed?

Well, “magic” could be one way to explain it, but it wouldn’t explain why they STOPPED using crystalline construction.  So instead I decided to look up how artificial crystals were formed in real life. There are several processes, including some that have been turned into educational kits for children, but I needed one that worked for larger crystals.  I found one that required a high-temperature smelter that would be ideal; I didn’t know everything about it, but I did learn enough of the broad strokes to design a similar process… using dragonfire.

Would it really work?  Well, there are no real-life dragons, so that’s hard to say, and I didn’t go into the details in either my study of the real life process or the process I “invented,” but I had enough details to make it plausible.  All you need to do is make the “scientific” process plausible enough that your readers buy it (and your more educated readers don’t complain) and you’re good to go.  Still takes research just to make it plausible, though.

You don’t need to explain everything (though you need to know it, just in case it comes up), but it’s probably a good idea to explain the more exotic details of your world.  And there are a LOT of details to consider:

Architecture (a character living in a two-floor Tudor-style house intended for one family would have different home-life issues than a character living in a communal long-house)

What and how people eat (Victory!  Time to party!  So, what dishes will your heroes likely be served in celebration?  Or how skilled would a spy need to be to infiltrate the castle as a cook?  And do they eat food by hand, using forks, using chopsticks, or something else?)

How everyday people view and enjoy art and music (Tolkien showed this by interspersing ballads — both in English and in his own constructed languages — throughout all his books.  A number of other fantasy writers have followed suit, with mixed results)

What would your hero drink? (not everyone drank just beer or water.  There’s wine (you need an environment where grapes or similar fruits can grow for that), mead (made from honey; means there are bees common in that part of the world, and that honey is cultivated.  Yes, Vikings loved mead, so that meant there must have been Viking beekeepers.  If you just pictured someone in a horned beekeeper’s hat, you probably found that concept as amusing as I did), rice “wine” (arguably more of a beer-process; rice wine would mean rice, which means rice patties, which can effect the terrain and limit or effect the battlefield if armies come marching in), hot chocolate (and the type of hot chocolate; the type of hot chocolate Montezuma served to his guests is more like coffee than the hot chocolate of today), tea (again, has agricultural implications), milk (what type of milk-producing animal is likely to be living in the area, though?)… I could go on.

Government matters, even if your characters never interact with a single member of the government or enforcer of its laws.  A feudal system would affect characters based on their class (like medieval England or Japan; peasants were most likely serfs, which effects their ability to move around legally and means they had little or no money.  That’s not to say there were no freemen, even in feudal times.  Freemen usually had money, businesses, even land and so forth, and could travel at will, but held no titles, and they could lose their rights if they lost their property.  A noble or knight’s retainers might also have social status equal to or greater than normal free men, but again had no hereditary titles.  Knights were both landed and landless, with landless knights (or ronin… well, in very rough equivalencies) having a low status about equal to freemen and landed knights (or samurai) having a high status about equal to a semi-autonomous governor, and then the full-on lords and nobles (or daimyo) who employed the knights (or samurai) and were almost de facto equals in power to the kings, shoguns, and emperors themselves), a republic might change a character’s status with the populace depending on the circumstances of his or her birth (citizens at least theoretically have rights; there are codified laws and a council of some kind — often consisting of citizens — who can make and change those laws.  But these laws usually only applied to citizens; a non-citizen girl might be attracted to a man simply because he is a citizen and can therefore give any offspring they have the rights of citizenship), direct and absolute monarchy\dictatorship (in which case, the bureaucracy that maintains civil order is probably weak… but enforcement of laws that the king cares about is probably swift and strong, because otherwise the king is going to lose power very quickly), a “constitutional” monarchy (which often has some of the same elements as a republic, but may maintain the elements of  social stratification of the feudal system), or… well, democracies DID exist (see ancient Athens) but, outside of Athens itself, rarely survived for very long in the Ancient world.

What industry supports the village\city your characters are in?  It may be easy enough to come up with a job your character does in the village, but villages don’t usually sprout up in the middle of nowhere.  Were they founded in a militarily strategic location (and if so, why was this site strategic militarily?)  Are they a fishing village (means a waterfront)?  Are they a farming village (in which case the decision on the government matters, because farms with a bunch of serfs or slaves to maintain them can grow different crops than a single farmer overseeing a field he owns and runs himself)?  Are they centered around a specific natural resource (gold, iron, silver, etc.  Heck, several of the more wealthy cities in prehistory were centered around salt, believe it or not; a phenomenon that continued for millennia)?  Were they formed as a trading outpost along a major trade route (in which case, what is being traded)?  Etc.

Religion.  Your characters will have some.  Is your culture monotheistic, polytheistic, anamistic, spiritualistic, etc., etc.  Do they worship at central temples or in home-based shrines?  Atheism would probably not be the norm in a fantasy setting (although there may be some other form of “ism” if, in your fantasy world, your characters believe there was a god but he is dead).  Are there holy days, sacred rites, etc.  If you bury a body, what is the method of the funeral?  In fantasy novels, these sorts of questions come up all the time.  Even if you don’t need them for a story element, it helps to have an idea of what sort of religions your characters practice to determine their motivations (a scene where my characters are appealing to their god(s) or otherwise worshiping in their religions has never come up in either of my fantasy series; that said, I have several details in mind about what the religions are like in both of them, whenever one of my characters must face a moral choice.  So if the religious practices of these characters ever come up, I’m covered)

Fashion.  Even soldiers and mercenaries didn’t walk around in armor all the time; when not in armor, did your fantasy civilization wear tunics and pants?  Togas?  Kilts?  Kimono?  Do your characters typically wear hats (a common uniform component, even when not part of armor)?  Are these clothes made of wool, cotton, silk, linen, leather, or something else (don’t ask.  Well, if you really need to know)?  Learn the properties of these cloth types, and how they may cause your characters problems (or how to avoid turning them into problems, if you want to streamline things); linen wrinkles easily, wool would typically be uncomfortable in hot environments, cotton and silk have environmental challenges, and leather requires a lot of maintenance.

How cosmopolitan is your society?  Your hero may live in a trading town of Tudor-style buildings, drinking lingonberry wine, eating stew, wearing a buckskin leather hunting outfit while trying to come up with a law proposal for the town council, but if a stranger wearing a kilt, with the smell of mead on him, comes into the room offering to sell him a ton of his liege lord’s chalk, how strange will your hero think this guy is?

Does your world have magic?  If so, how would that change the way your world has developed.  Is the prevalence of magic the only reason no-one ever developed gunpowder or electricity?  Is magic fairly common, or incredibly rare?  Are people who use magic feared, hated, beloved, worshiped?  Is magic used for everyday things like cooking, cleaning, etc. (after all, we’re talking “daily life” here), or is it only ever used in exceptional circumstances?  How does magic even WORK in this world?

I’m sure there are things I haven’t thought of (in fact, I’m sure of it; I’m posting this blog a day late, and there were things I was thinking of including last night that I can’t think of right now).  The key thing is that, to come up with a daily life for your characters, you must think everything through, and make sure the decisions you’ve made work together.  A person living in a desert is unlikely to eat fish all that often, unless he’s on the coast.  A religion that makes the displaying naked bodies taboo would be very hard to work with inside of a communal longhouse (where EVERYTHING is done publicly.  Yes, even that!).

And if you’ve made it this far, through all the walls of text, you’ve… just barely scratched the surface of what you need to think about for daily life in a fantasy novel.  It’s a big, broad topic, probably worth a whole series of blog posts on its own.  Enough that there are whole books on the topic.

A few recommendations for further reading:

(For Free)

Roman Dress

Sengoku Daimyo

Rosalie’s Medieval Woman

The Viking Answer Lady

(For Bookstores\Libraries)

The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diane Wynne Jones

What Kings Ate and Wizards Drank: A Fantasy Lovers Food Guide by Krista D. Ball

Lobscouse and Spotted Dog:  A Gastronomic Companion to the Aubrey\Maturin Novels

Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders: A Writer’s (and Editor’s) Guide to Keeping Historical Fiction Free of Common Anachronisms, Errors, and Myths

1001 Inventions That Changed the World by Jack Challoner

The Prairie Traveler: The 1859 Handbook for Westbound Pioneers by Randolph B. Marcy

Old-Time Farm and Garden Devices and How to Make Them by Rolfe Cobleigh

Book of Old-Time Trades and Tools

And many, many more.  These are just the things I could find on my shelves or in my bookmarks after a few minutes of checking.  If I really wanted to make a comprehensive list, I would have hundreds of bookmarks and thousands of books listed.

Like I said… maybe this is a topic that deserves a whole series of blogs on its own.

Edit:  Comments closed due to spam attempts.

Ravencon Panels (I’m Not Doing): Imposter Syndrome

INTRODUCTION TO THIS SERIES OF BLOGS

This blog has been dead for a while — largely because I’ve been too busy, but now I’m having trouble getting into the habit, again.

Ravencon (which, if you’ve missed the last several blogs, I’ve been invited to appear as a guest; note that other conventions only use the term “guest” for the Guest of Honor, in which case this role would instead be referred to as an “attending professional” or something similar) is coming up in a month and a half.

There was a limit to the number of panels I was allowed to sign up for (they wanted guests to pick a minimum of four panels and a maximum of ten).  I looked up some advice for first-time guests, and one overarching point I saw was not to take it easy.  So, I signed up for six panels… but also provided about nine possible alternates.  As it turns out, it looks as if four of these fifteen panels were cut, and four more were merged into other similar panels I’d signed up for… and I’ve wound up, in this draft of the schedule, having seven panels.  Heh.

At any rate, in addition to the panels I signed up for, there were quite a number which I was very interested in but which didn’t make the cut (either because I figured I wasn’t the right person for the panel, didn’t know enough, or I just had too many panels I was already planning to do).  And some of the topics in the draft schedule I was sent look more interesting now than when the sign-up sheet went up.  At any rate, it occured to me I could solve my “dead blog” problem by writing posts on those panels I’m NOT going to be doing at Ravencon.  (And then maybe, after Ravencon is over, I’ll do some blogs on those panels I DID cover… but we’ll see how things go.

THE TOPIC AT HAND:  IMPOSTER SYNDROME

So, for this week, a topic I probably wouldn’t have signed up for even if I’d had no limitations for sign up, but which I figure I’ll be fighting against for a lot of these blog posts and maybe even some of the panels I’m signed up for:  Imposter Syndrome.

To begin with, Imposter Syndrome is not currently classified as a psychosis, neurosis, or any other type of mental disease.  It’s perfectly normal.  According to Wikipedia, it is:

“…a concept describing high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.”

As an author, I follow a lot of other authors, and one thing I can say is that most of us (myself included) suffer from at least a mild form of this phenomenon.  So, by the way, do musicians, painters, and quilters (hi, mom!), and artists of all other types.

It shows up in all kinds of ways, and sometimes you can recognize it in yourself.  This very post has an example of it (and, in fact, that is why I chose Imposter Syndrome as the first topic in this series).  You notice how I made that clarification that being a “guest” at Ravencon was more like a “attending professional” at other conventions (even though “guest” is just as common, if not a more common, title for what that role is)?  It’s because I’m afraid people will see me say I’m a guest at a convention and think I’m claiming to be more than I am.  That is a practical example of mild Imposter Syndrome.

Imposter Syndrome manifests in a number of ways.  For example, JUST related to things that will come up in the next couple months:

  1. I’m going to be a panelist at Ravencon.  I’m just this self-published author with three novels, a single short work, and a couple still-in-production works to my name.  Am I really enough of an expert to justify my selection as a convention guest?  (The answer, I know intellectually, is yes; even though the number of title I have written is low, I’m also constantly educating myself in the fields of writing, self-publishing, etc.  I know for a fact that I’m more of an expert in the field of self-publishing better than several self-publishing “experts” I’ve encountered at various conventions in the past.  But there is still that doubt…)
  2. I’ve been accepted into an anthology (the title will be World’s Enough: Fantastic Defenders).  I was given back some editorial comments, though, and a deadline of the end of February to get the rewrites in.  Then I broke a tooth.  Even though I’d been told I could ask for more time if I needed it (and even though everything else on this anthology has run late, so far), I was terrified to ask for an extension of just a few days after I broke my tooth and found myself unable to work on it at the worst possible time.  If I’m more trouble than I’m worth, will they just drop me and go with one fewer story?  (Of course, I got the extension, no problem.  But now I’m worried that I didn’t do enough with the changes to make my editor happy after having gotten that extension)
  3. I’m trying pretty hard to get one more book out there before Ravencon (The Merrimack Event, in this case).  I’d hoped to have at least five books out, but I’m struggling to make it to four.  I may not make it at all (at this point, it depends on factors outside my control; namely, the cover art), but with every new release — especially for a new series, and in a new genre — I have to wonder if the success I had with my first book will carry over.  I may have 4+ stars on both Amazon and Goodreads for all my books, but I still have this fear people will read the new book and think “Oh, look — this guy’s just an amateur after all!”  (stay tuned for this one)
  4. Saying “I’m bringing back the Weekly Sunday Blog Post” and then never remembering that it’s Sunday to write a blog, or having any topics in mind to write about when I try (although I have ideas, now, and I’m remembering to do it this Sunday).  The fact that I almost NEVER get comments on this blog hurts (even if I do get the occasional comment on Facebook or Twitter).

So… yeah.  Some of these things actually help fight the Imposter Syndrome (someone at Ravencon must think my resumé is strong enough to be acceptable as a “professional,” at a minimum.  I was accepted into the anthology, regardless of the editorial work needed.  I’m actually getting books out, even if not at the pace I’d like, and most of them do have good sales early on and good reviews the longer they sell.  Etc.) at the same time that they hurt.  Imposter Syndrome is funny that way.

So, how do you combat Imposter Syndrome?  You want to overcome that under-confidence that makes you feel like a fraud, but not get so cocky you annoy your fans and turn people off, or start ignoring your editors, or let your books go out before they’re ready, etc.

I’m not a psychologist, so I don’t know if there are any specific treatments or therapies being developed for it.  I do know that it’s an irrational fear.  Like most irrational fears, it takes a while to overcome.  Genuine moments of success (such as selling new books, being invited as a guest at a convention, etc.) help. Positive feedback (aka good reviews) help.  But ultimately?  It’s something you have to work through yourself.

You just have to be sure you never let those fears prevent you from doing the things you need to do for your job.  Don’t knock yourself down too much, don’t stop yourself from applying to be a convention guest or releasing that next book because you’re not sure you’re good enough, etc.

In other words, don’t let your fears go to your head.

So, Perhaps I Brought Back the “Weekly” Blog A Few Weeks Too Early…

So, a few weeks ago I announced that I was returning to blogging. And since then, outside of a brief status report, I’ve posted nothing.

Oops. Truthfully, I really got too busy again, and forgot to let you all know. See, I did get accepted by that anthology, but I was sent a number of editorial notes.

Sadly, I am now overdue on returning them (though that’s okay; I arranged for an extension) after I bit down on something hard (still not sure what; maybe a fork?) and broke a tooth; something that will require months of repair work, it seems. For about a week or so, at the worst possible time for that project, I was completely unable to work on much of anything thanks to the pain medication and the antibiotic I was on. At least now I’m finally almost done (though if I have enough time before my extension runs out, I might see if I can run it through a scaled-down form of my beta process again), so that’ll be out of the way soon.

But what’s brought me to come back to blogging isn’t my time freeing up again (it hasn’t, yet), but rather that I’ve received in my e-mail a draft version of the Ravencon schedule of panels.

Again, I’ve been very busy, so I haven’t made an extensive search of the panel list. And it’s a draft; I imagine there will be changes (one panel I’m scheduled to be on has over a dozen panelists on it; I imagine the numbers will be reduced before the schedule is finalized; by the time all the panelists could be introduced, the panel would be over, so I’m guessing a few writers will be cut from that panel).

For now, I’m scheduled to appear on seven different panels at the convention. The minimum is four, and it’s my first convention as a guest\attending professional\appearing professional author\whatever the convention calls it, so I asked for a lighter schedule than I thought I could handle. Seven panels is more than I asked for, but if I’m not cut from any of them I think I’ll be fine.

Assuming nothing changes (again, I expect changes) then I will be working with over two dozen other professional authors (or professionals in other author-related fields) during those three days. I’ll have two panels on Friday, one on Sunday, and four on Saturday… but none Saturday night. And the only period where I’m even slightly worried about mealtimes (something I’ve had trouble with during conventions where I haven’t even been a guest) is Friday evening, where I have two panels slipped alongside the opening ceremonies right around dinnertime, with the (guest-only; sorry!) green room meet-and-greet sandwiching them. I think a light dinner will be available at the meet-and-greet, though, so I should be okay.

Closer to the event (when the schedule is more final), I’ll break down the exact panels I’m on and everything.

Well, here’s hoping I actually finish these [expletive deleted] edits in time. I’ll TRY to post another post next week… but it took me MUCH longer to get this one out than I thought it would.

Edit:  Comments closed due to a massive attempt at spamming.  E-mail me if you want them re-opened.