Expectations vs Reality

My first draft of book 6 started with a problem. It's easy to fix, since the Narrator can just impart the necessary information, but I thought I'd talk about these issues in general. It's expectation vs. reality. In this case, it comes from the fact that so far, many of my DbC novels are actually named after a subplot, a running joke, or a theme. They aren't actually named for the books primary plot. For instance, DbC 2 is subtitled The Wrath of Con. The game occurring during this book takes place during a convention, and the idea of a convention keeps coming up over and over throughout the book, but the book is in no way about conventions. In the case of book 6, the book is named after the alias of a character and his plot, which doesn't appear until chapter 13. However you learned the alias and the goal of his plan in the last book, so all I really need to do is remind (or inform) the reader of those facts in the first chapter or two. This way, the reader will know they are waiting for the plan to emerge instead of staring at the title in puzzlement, and then reading a chapter, then checking the title, shrugging, and reading another chapter, etc.

Dan Wells ran into a similar issue with I Am Not a Serial Killer. The fact that the book had a supernatural element isn't obvious right away, and readers had trouble with the sudden change in tone when the supernatural aspects emerged later. Dan solved it just as easily as I am in DbC 6. He had the first person narrator tell you about the supernatural aspect early on, even though his character didn't know yet. Since it was a 1st person narrator speaking in the past tense, the reader just assumes the narrator is relating the story after he discovered the truth.

Other expectations take more work (and it also depends on how you define expectation). We know from the Treason of Isengard that Tolkien knew very early in the writing process that Frodo wouldn't be able to throw the ring into the Crack of Doom, and Tolkien lays the groundwork for this from the beginning. Bilbo has difficulty giving up the ring, of course, but Frodo actually fails to throw the ring into a completely mundane fireplace at the beginning of the book. Right there, he sets out the expectation, if subconsciously. If Frodo can't throw the ring into a fire that can't hurt it, how is he going to must the will to actually destroy it at the end? And of course, we have the betrayal of Boromir, the growing power of the ring, and many other forms of foreshadowing throughout the book.

Another technique you'll see a lot, especially in movies and TV, is using the edits to direct the viewer's attention to a hidden bad guy. Pay attention, upon rewatching a mystery or a story with a hidden foe, and see how many times the main characters refer to the unknown bad guy, and then the show cuts immediately to the actual villain. You don't usually notice this, but it's slowly laying the groundwork in your brain so that when the villain is revealed, the reveal seems more inevitable.

Another example comes from a review of the original Ravenloft adventure in Dragon Magazine. While I didn't agree with the review, this one point stuck with me as a writer ever since. The reviewer criticized the challenges and traps of the adventure, saying that they drew attention away from the primary antagonist rather than pulling attention back to him and underscoring his menace. Writing Excuses had similar advice last weeks with subplots, advising against subplots that distracted from the primary plot as opposed to enriching the overall story. In the case of the mostly unseen antagonist, try to use foes, challenges, and threats who's nature resonates with the villain. Vampire stories might have stories where darkness, loss of control, and weakness are constant themes and challenges, even when the big bad guy isn't actually in the picture.

The hard part can be identifying these expectations.  Possibly the easiest solution is just to have someone, not you, read the book and tell you what they see. Obviously, my Writers' Group told me that the title of the new book was strange enough that not knowing its relevance distracted them from the story. Howard Tayler will often have us read the first part of a Schlock book and ask us what promises he's made, just to see if he's missed any.

This issue of expectation, and fulfilling your promises, is critical to professional writing. It's one of the easiest things to get wrong, and when you don't nail it, it leaves the work feeling hollow and incomplete. This is slightly next level stuff here, but it's a next level you must hit if you're ever to write professionally.

Jerry Pournelle

We stood in a long line at the banquet for the academic symposium Life, the Universe, and Everything. Howard Tayler, Sandra Tayler, Jerry Pournelle, and myself. We were all sitting at the same table, probably with members of the con committee. Suddenly Jerry bellows at the top of his lungs, "Donner, party of 16!" Long pause. Then, "Donner, party of 15!" This was the same symposium where he sat on a panel with Howard about tighter, crunchier writing and after everyone else had introduced themselves, Howard explained that he had to fit all of his dialog into three panels. Jerry bellowed, "Dammit, boy, you're the only qualified to be here, I get paid by the word!"

Jerry Pournelle passed away Friday. He reputedly returned from DragonCon under the weather and whatever caused it, the sickness claimed him quickly. I've often felt like con crud was going to kill me. I don't find that joke funny any longer.

Jerry came across bigger than life. He held the distinction, as far as we can tell, of being the first person to write a novel on a computer. He played every line for the balconies. If you've ever seen the play, Aspects of Love, the eulogy from that show best sums up Jerry, for he had a thirst and lust for living. The man was too big to be contained by something as fragile as a physical form. As ephemeral as simple humanity. Jerry burned like the stars his novels explored. Timeless. Unstoppable. Unquenchable. Did you know that nuclear fusion is actually the cooling, mitigating factor of a star? Without fusion to keep the gravitic heating of a star to a mere ceiling of 200,000,000 degrees, it would continue heating to theoretical infinity. Imagine Jerry without that limiter.

I've always imagined that limiter was his wife, Roberta. Roberta is one of the sweetest, gentlest human beings I've ever met. I didn't meet Jerry at LTUE. I met him a couple years before, at Writers of the Future. During the barbeque, Jerry sat at the table with the other judges. It was an opportunity for the pros to catch up with one another. Roberta, on the other hand, found the shyest contest winner at the banquet, the person who simply would not approach one of the pros under any circumstances, cornered them and made them talk about their work for 15 minutes. Then she found the next shyest winner and cornered them. She did that the entire time. I'm not the shyest anything, so I just sort of orbited and observed, but at that moment, I decided that while I acted, innately, almost exactly like Jerry, I wanted to grow up to be just like Roberta. I've strived to be more like her at every convention since.

I talk about Roberta because I've lost a lot of people in my life. I know that when people die, we talk about the late person, and we seem to think that the tragedy is their loss. And it is, but that is an inherently selfish way of thinking. Losing Jerry hurts because I've lost Jerry. He won't be in my life anymore. I won't see him at conventions. I won't read any more of his books. I won't hear him on This Week in Tech. But that's really all about me.

The real tragedy is the effect on his family. I don't think I've met his son, but I've met Roberta. I actually don't know her current status, and I can't find a reference to her more current than ten years old. But in my mind, she's the avatar of all the people who grieve for the loss of this man. He's passed from their lives and he's left a loud, large, and boisterous hole in his passing. It will not heal cleanly. It will not be filled easily. It will never quite feel right ever again. They might feel okay again, but they will never feel the same.

But somewhere, bar con is just starting up, and Jerry is just sitting down, ordering a drink, and waiting for the rest of them to join him.

Can you hear him? "Pournelle, party of 1!"

Long pause.

He's patient. Take your time.

Your Second Published Novel Part (I've Lost Count)

Now that Game of Thrones is over, and I'm no longer afraid that if I don't blog about it, I'll be stabbed in the back every time I go to the salon for a hair cut, it's back to the novel-writing grind. And by grind, I mean that I have to continue to produce words, as I always do, but otherwise I'm trying to finish Horizon Zero Dawn before I pick up any major projects. Then I start the last major edit of DbC 4 and turn it in.

In the meantime, I signed the contract for DbC 3. Also, when I say "before I pick up any major projects" I received a dirty ARC for DbC 2: The Wrath of Con. A dirty ARC is an Advanced Readers Copy. Essentially, my job is to re-read the entire thing and try to find typos. My mind is putty at this point, but even though my confidence in my proofreading is pretty low, I found a fair amount of typos while reading the audiobook. One of the best proofing techniques, after all, is to read aloud. I noted all the ones I found at the time, so I've been integrating those on my proofread. I should finish my re-read Thursday night. A good thing, too, because I promised I'd be done by the end of the week.

In other news, I've started DbC 6. Our writers' group took a small break for con season and the Writing Excuses Cruise. We start meeting again next week. So I'll be turning in my first chapters then. With the end of that book, I'll have two chapters of DbC books. I'm not sure what I'll do at that point. I don't think I'll stop writing them, but I MIGHT start alternating with other books. We'll see.

Anyway, that updates you on general writing business. Back to your normally scheduled week.

Winter Has Come and Gone

Spoilers for Game of Thrones season finale to follow.

So I got a hair cut tonight (I write these in advance of posting). A guy at my salon insists that I talk to him about Game of Thrones, much to the chagrin of the stylist. I'll admit that after his reading my Star Wars deconstructions and talking to me about GoT, he insisted that I start these posts. So last night we spoke of this episode (it's why this one is a day late). He found it boring. I found it fairly intense and riveting. He found Dunkirk the same way while I found Dunkirk intense. So some of that might just be our taste in shows. But I've been thinking about his criticisms, and I believe he has a point. Many elements of this season finale have a touch of the "too little, too late." Many others rely on screen techniques to sell them that don't hold up under real scrutiny. For instance, they bank a great deal on us feeling tension over the meeting between Tyrion and Cersei, but as my friend at the salon pointed out, there was no chance that Cersei would kill Tyrion in that meeting. Tyrion was the only safety valve on Dany at that point. If Tyrion dies, Dany burns King's Landing to the ground, and whether Cersei knows Tyrion's role at that point, she has to know the chance or retribution for killing Dany's Hand. The only fear we should have during that meeting is that Cersei goes crazy, Dany releases her inner dragon on the Lannisters once and for all, Jon and Dany have to fight the White Walkers without Cersei's armies, because it's not like there's a real risk of her armies hurting them much once that safety gets taken off the dragon cannon. Another little bait and switch revolves around the Arya/Sansa plot. We never see them plot together, but we see plenty of scenes where they are supposedly alone where they seem to be enemies. That whole reveal is based on the fact that we want it to be true so badly that we won't dig too deeply into it. (The movie The Sting did the same thing. You'll see a scene and then when you find out later that the whole thing was a con, you'll be like, wait...who were they playing that scene for? The audience?)

Anyway, let's look at the characters.

The Hound and the Mountain - I wonder if the Hound can actually kill his brother. I hope he can. I'd love to see it. It's been a long time coming. Anyway, I'm referring to the theory that the Mountain is mostly undead. I believe that's just a theory and not something widely known. The skin we see through that helmet doesn't look entirely...natural.

Arya and Sansa - Another buddy theorized Friday night that they were working together. I pointed out that Arya was acting completely consistantly with how much she hated Sansa in Season 1. My issues with storytelling aside, I've never been so glad to be wrong. Normally, I'd be suspicisious. It's his job to QC copies of the digital file for a major company, but he doesn't do that until Saturday, so he doesn't have to bite back spoilers until I see him Saturday night. Anyway, I might have started singing Sisters Are Doing it For Themselves at that point.

Littlefinger - Good riddance. Good God, how much of the evil in this show has actually sprung from him. Let's see. 1) He killed Jon Aryn. 2) He pinned the assassination attempt of Bran on Tyrion, essentially starting the war between the Starks and the Lanisters. 3) He double-crossed Ned, leading to his death. 4) He wed Tyrell to Joffrey, giving the Lanisters the power to win the Battle of Blackwater 5) He killed Joffrey (and in the end no one ever did figure out his part in it, although that might have been a public service) 6) He married and killed Lysa becoming Lord of the Vale 7) He (presumably) almost succeeded in putting a wedge between Arya and Sansa. 

Watching him die was very satisfying. The only thing that wasn't satisfying about it was that Sansa passed sentence and Arya executed it, in direct contravention of their father's first rule of kingship. But you could argue the sisters were operating as a single person in that scene and therefore they get a pass.

Euron and Theon - Euron is still a dick. If anyone doubted it before, we know it now. Theon seems to be, in defiance of all logic, attempting to perform a bonified medical miracle and grow a pair. As much as he's done to earn our hatred (I'm rewatching his heinous acts of season two right now), I wish him well. I hate Euron that much, and I like Theon's sister.

Bronn and that One Kid Who's Name I Can't Bother To Look Up - They got out of that meeting quick, didn't they? Survival instinct. That's what that is.

Sam and Bran - Not much there, although was that the first time we actually officially learned Jon's real name? Anyway. All is confirmed, just in time for some hot Aunt on Nephew sex.

Cersei and Jaime - My coworker reminded me Monday that it's been prophecized that Cersei would be killed by one of her brothers. I'm guessing it Jaime at this point that would certainly be the better poetic choice. I've been saying all season that he'd never do that, but now I see it's probably overdue. They probably drew that out too long. Anyway, I'll be interested to see where he lands next season.

Jon and Dany - It's great to see that getting yourself killed for your morals is a dominant genetic trait in the male Stark line (he's still a Stark, don't forget, just by Ned's sister). Jon barely got out of this episode alive. Of course, he was rewarded at the end with sex with his aunt. I'm not sure how I'm supposed to feel about that. I mean, they're Targaryens, so...yay?

The Night King and the Undead Dragon - I thought the undead dragon would breath ice. Evidently in breath blue-white fire. So building that wall out of ice turns out to have been a bad idea. Hindsight.

Beyond the Wall

Spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 7, Episode 6 follow.

I desperately wanted to title this blog post, "Help, My Show has Jumped the Zombie Polar Bear." But I thought that was too spoilery for the title.

So. Most of this episode was a bunch of dudes wandering the white wastes talking about dude stuff while being particularly masculine and also pontificating on the nature of life and death and the meaning of heroism. So basically my typical Friday night, but with slightly fewer Zombie Polar Bears. And slightly more flaming swords, because modern smoke detectors are hella annoying, yo.

So. Tyrion. Nice of him to take that shot about Jon being too "small" for Dany in stride. Also good for him for keeping on task with the whole succession thing, even in light of her getting all up in his grill about him losing their first two allies. It's a dark time for Tyrion right now. It would be easy just to fold up like a potato bug. Good that he's still plugging away.

Tormund and the Hound - Oh good God. I love them. I want them to kiss already. These two need to star in a buddy movie spin off right now. Get on that HBO. You can send the check to my PayPal account.

Jorah - I really wanted him to take his sword back. I might have father issues. Still, I'm ready to see him do something other than brood and wander around wrapped in tragedy.

Arya and Little Finger - Little Finger seems to be hell bent on driving a wedge between the sisters, which is a difficult job considering the size of the wedge that's already there.  At this point, I think he's just sitting back and watching the fireworks. "Oh, she has a chest full of faces. How sweet."

Sansa and Brienne - There's a Star Trek flight simulator here in Pleasant Grove, UT. During one of the missions, I was manning damage control. I remember the computer telling us that the Romulan ship was scanning the bridge and put forth the supposition that it was trying to zero in on the Captain with the intention of beaming him off while our shields were down. I'll always remember because the next bit happened without a word or a look. Gary Llewelyn, the Captain, stood up and left the captain's chair without skipping a beat and his brother Scott, the head of security, moved over and sat down in said chair, pantomiming holding two phasers. When Cersei sent an invite to Sansa to come to Kings Landing and Sansa decided to send Brienne instead, it reminded me of that moment, but with more complaining on Brienne's part. (In Brienne's defense, that would put her many many miles out of position for defending Sansa.)

Jon and Dany - That last battle was something. The loss of a dragon to the other side. The loss and then reclamation of Jon. Jon vowing to bend knee to Dany. Dany and Jon obviously making full doe eyes at one another at the end. Big, big setup for the last, near movie-length episode of the season.

So stay tuned.

Ouch! I Sprained My Connective Tissue

Spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 7 Episode 5 follow.

This episode wasn't as earth-shattering as the last two. Not surprising. There has been a lot of big movement of late and they really needed to reposition all their little plot elements before they could move them again. So. This episode felt like a whole lot of setup.

So. Let's check in with people.

Bron - So, Bron saved Jaimie. Quite the little move there if he wants that castle. Mouthing off to Jaimie after, maybe not so much, but I think Jaimie will deal with it well. When you're as secure in your skill and masculinity as Jaimie is, you can handle a little ribbing.

Sam's Dad and Brother - Ashes to ashes...

Dany and Jon - Well. It seems Dany likes making eyes at guys who like to pet her dragon. That isn't a euphemism. The thing is, shouldn't she be worried that the dragon's acceptance makes Jon, you know, related to her? But then again, considering her family history, maybe that's a turn on.

Jorah - Way to show up at the wrong time, dude. Kill joy. Glad to see you're back, though.

Bran - Do you think Bran is so calm about his urgency to tell Jon he's related to Dany because Bran's the Three-Eyed Raven and he just doesn't feel emotion anymore, or because he's the Three-Eyed Raven and he already knows whether he gets the news to him before the wedding?

Tyrion and The Onion Knight - It was fun watching them break into King's Landing to meet up with Jaimie. "Last Time I was here I killed my father with a crossbow." "Last time I was here you killed my son with wildfire." Good times.

Jaime and Sis - There's a baby coming? I heard one person suggest there isn't a baby and that's a manipulation ploy, but she seems too comfortable in her power at this point to need to need to resort to such a thing. When has Jaimie shown any hesitation to follow her? Really? But she seems to have shut him down on Tyrion's white walker plan. Also, her spies are pretty good. So, golf clap for that.

Arya and Sansa - Sansa is still badass as queen. Arya hasn't started respecting Sansa any more in the time she's been away. And it looks like Littlefinger is back to his old tricks, giving Arya one of Sansa's old coercion notes from Season 1. It's a plot worthy of Richard III. Or Three's Company.

Gendry? Crap, we're pulling out the oldies on this one, huh? Neat. We'll have to see where that one goes. Baratheon's bastard, risen again.

Sam and Gilly - Did you like the scene where Sam totally fails to get that Gilly is probably reading a book talking about Jon's birth? And of course, he throws a little fit about not doing important work. So it looks like he's leaving the Maesters. Seizing his destiny and all that.

I think that's all the major stuff.  A lot of little stuff happened too, and I'm not sure what's important yet. Good hell, but I was a little exhausted trying to get it all. For all that nothing happened it this episode, there was just so damn much nothing, it was hard to track it all.

Daenerys Strikes Back

Spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 7 Episode 4 to follow.

Well. Things ended on a pretty bleak footing last week, and if storytelling has told us anything, it's that we need something of a bounce back this week. So, let's see where everything stands after episode 4.

Sansa and Bran. Not a whole lot of movement on these two. It was nice to see Sansa reunite with her sister. Other than that, her plot didn't move forward. Bran got a wheelchair. So, yay. Also, we seem to be retconning the time after Bran became the three-eyed raven where he kept acting like Bran. I didn't imagine that, right? This whole new attitude is a pretty new development this season, right? Anyway, Bran leads us to:

Littlefinger. Holy crap that man is cold. Giving Bran the dagger that someone (probably Joffrey?) used to try to kill him. For a long time, I thought Littlefinger was behind the assassination, but I believe he was out of position for that. Anyway, it's good Bran calls him out on it with his "Chaos is a ladder" quote. The putz.

Jon Snow. Has his dragon glass mine about to start. They play another scene with his aunt full of implied promises and subtext, only to end with her demanding he bend a knee again. Which, all right, was pretty cool. I half expected that scene to end with the famous lines from Cheers, though: "Are you as turned on as I am?" "More!"

Tyrion. Not his best day. I suggested maybe he's not the best strategist (although in fairness, some of his problems rise from the fact that the writers don't know how to read their own maps). This week Dany suggests it too. The Imp is not in great standing. He tries to talk her out of taking her dragons against the Red Keep and she turns to Jon Snow for advice. The advice Jon gives is really pretty good, and he backs Tyrion.

Arya and Brienne. Practicing. With swords. And awesomeness. "I promise not to cut you." I didn't know I was waiting for this scene until I got it. I just needed this scene so much. I made my coworker hold me while I wept with joy. It wasn't creepy. I promise. I won't cut you.

Daenerys. Well, it seems Dany decided to split the difference. Jon and Tyrion both advised her against melting castles, so she attacks the army on the move. Presumably, that makes it easier to avoid deaths to the luggage and camp followers, so there are only military deaths. Still, Bron gets his licks in...

Bron. Draws first dragon blood in Westeros, even if he needed to lose his gold doing it. With that ballista/crossbow thing. That should be worth a castle, right?

Jamie. Lancing for Dany and the dragon at the end. Almost killed in dragon fire. Someone saved him. I've asked three people and no one figure out who. I guess we'll need to wait until next week...

Big Things Afoot at Casterly Rock

Spoilers coming. For Season 7 Episode 3 of Game of Thrones.

This post is a little late. I've been sick and I'm writing this in the middle of the night after a bit of a nap. So. Let's look at how things stand at the end of this episode.

Wow. It really was a shit storm, wasn't it? Dany had two allies in this damned war. We lost one during last week's episode, and this week... wow. Maybe Tyrion isn't quite the mastermind he thinks he is, huh?

Let's take it one character at a time.

Theon. Well, let's get this one out of the way. He didn't drown. So. That's that. Who's next?

Euron? Well this guy's a prig, isn't he? At least Yara's alive, as seen in the obligatory street mob scene. And Euron gives a nice speech full of creepy innuendo (and then later some creepy locker room talk with Jaimie). Cersei handles the whole thing well. She'll marry him...right after the war is done. I mean, what are the odds of both of them surviving to the end, huh?

Cersei. Well, she's on top of the world this episode, huh? First, she gets the woman who killed her daughter. Then she gets to give an epic, bond villain like speech in the dungeon, followed by a kiss of death like she's Al Pachino. "You broke my heart, Tyrene. You broke my heart." Then she gets to have sex with her brother and who cares who knows (not my thing, but hey). Basically, everything's coming up Cersei.

Dany and Jon. Well. I asked, I think in a comment in last week's blog, if Jon and Dany were going to get married before or after he realizes she's his aunt. I'm voting after. (In fairness, that question was originally asked by my friend Gary, but man, this episode drives it home). Jon basically blows his first meeting with her, only to be saved by Tyrion. On their second meeting, she at least agrees to give him Dragon Glass, if not future romantic doe eyes. So. You know. There's that.

Sam. Well Sam is a healing savant maybe? Or just good at following instructions? And now he has to copy a big bunch of manuscripts? What do you want to bet they hold something plot critical? (H/T to my coworker Brianne)

Who's left? Oh right. Jaimie and Tyrion. Because Tyrion seems to be pulling off a great plan. Until we realize that in taking Casterly Rock, he's left the Reach completely unguarded. (Where's the Tyrell army? Just in transit maybe?). So now Dany has lost both her allies. She better queue those doe eyes up. Jon is all she's got. Still that loss allowed for the beautiful final scene between Jaimie and Olenna Tyrell (Oh crap, I just realized that's Dianna Rigg). So. Now Jaimie knows his brother didn't kill his son. I've been waiting a long time for that one too. I don't think it will matter much to Cersei, but it might to Jaimie. We'll see.

So, at the end. The Lannisters 2, Jon Snow 1, Dany 0. The unsullied army is out of position and without a navy. It will have to figure out a way to feed itself it it's to so much as survive, much less move. Dany has lost all of her allies. There is, however, a Tyrell army in the wind somewhere, presumably between the Reach and Kings Landing.

Can't wait for next week.

Game of Thrones

For those of you who think that you're getting this on Tuesday because Monday was a holiday in Utah, that isn't it. Actually, I used to write these on Sunday and schedule these to pop Monday, while everyone was at work because web traffic isn't great on the weekend. Now I can't write much of anything on Sunday because I go straight from recording the audiobook for DbC 2 into a Legend of the Five Rings game Sunday night. Also, I promised a guy at my hair salon I'd write about Game of Thrones and I don't get to watch that until Monday, so I'm writing these Monday night now. Still setting these to pop in the middle of the afternoon, because I'm a slave to pointless tradition.

So Game of Thrones. And, uh, in case you didn't guess...SPOILERS.

We're two episodes in. The first took its time. It built tension. It laid a lot of groundwork, reminding us where all the pieces stood, so I'll mainly talk about the two episodes as a whole. And I'm mainly going to talk about characters.

Cersei. What is there to say about Cersei. She earned a lot of sympathy at the end of last season. She's spent most of it already. I liked the way she handled Euron Greyjoy. Her back is against the wall. I know how the War of the Roses ended. I don't see how Game of Thrones ends the same way. I just don't see it at this point.

Jon Snow and Sansa. Sansa is so cold now. So hard. It's not terribly surprising, seeing what she's been through. John, on the other hand, has grown, but he hasn't really changed. Of all the characters in Game of Thrones, he might have kept to who he was the most (the other contender might be Tyrion). Jon Snow has merely become more expert at being Jon Snow. It's interesting how Sansa has more reason to trust Tyrion, but Jon Snow actually puts more faith in him. Then again, maybe Sansa is right...

Tyrion. Ah, we love our Imp. "All dwarfs are bastards in their father's eyes." Tyrion has really grown into his role here. (Please don't take that as a pun.) It's no wonder he gets top billing on the IMDB page. And his move in episode two with the armies...cold. Just cold. If I was to think Sansa was right to not trust him, that she has some special insight into his secret soul from being married to him, it is because of that scene. Tyrion's charm hides a special brutal cunning.

Daenerys. My coworker is really worried she's turning into her father. However, I'm not terribly worried about that at this point. Her father would do more than attack King's Landing. She takes a hard line with Jon Snow, but what other choice does she have, as an opening position? She intends to reclaim the seven kingdoms. She can't do that starting from a position of weakness, and right now, she has most of the cards. It's too early in the game to start handing them away. She freed the slaves. We'll see where her moral compass points when she finds out about the white walkers.

Arya. I love me my Arya. We see her as a total bad ass in her first scene (my viewing companion called that, credit where credit is due). The scene with the soldiers was great. And she finally found out about Winterfell and Jon Snow. And you aren't convincing me that wasn't Nymeria. You aren't convincing me she won't come back when it's important. THAT STORY WILL HAVE A HAPPY ENDING, DAMMIT. I'm a romantic and I demand it. (Don't tell the women I date. It's a secret.)

Jaimie and Brienne. Isn't much to say about them yet, but I couldn't skip them. We'll see.

Samwell and Jorah Mormont. Dammit, I've been waiting seven seasons for that reaction when Sam hears Jorah's name. I didn't think those plotlines would ever connect. That scene with the greyscales...chilling. And so Sam. I'd forgotten that Daenerys ordered Jorah to find a cure. I'm so glad that Sam's relationship with his father, as distant and roundabout through Jon as it might have been, might be the impetus for that cure.

So that's it.

Oh. Wait. Something did happen, didn't it? Right there at the end. Did Theon leave Yara to die?

I'm not sure Theon made the wrong call there. He might have made it for the wrong reasons, but I saw the look in Euron's eyes the same as he did. I saw the crazy there. I don't doubt that Theon was sure that if moved forward, she died. I don't doubt that for a moment. Did he run to save himself? Maybe. Did he run because she died if he didn't? That must have played some part of it too.

We see a woman hanging from the masthead at the end, but we don't know its Yara. Euron said he's bringing Cersei a gift. I think it's Yara. I think she's a better gift alive. I think if Theon charged, he would have settled for dead. So did Theon make the right choice? Probably? He probably made it for the wrong reasons, but I think that he likely saved his sister's life.

Those are my thoughts for now. Lets see how next week develops.

Amendment: Adding this Sunday morning, before Episode 3 airs. On a careful rewatch I caught something I must have missed on my first viewing. When Euron's men take Ellaria she tells them to kill her and they purposely don't. So obviously she's the present. I thought on my first viewing that he'd taken or killed her without realizing she'd killed Cersei's daughter.

Final Push

This blog post is going to be quick. I write these on Sunday and I need to write 2-3000 words today.

This week is my last writers' group before we go on hiatus for a month of conventions. So let me explain something called "The Slow Read Problem." When you're in a writers' group you tackle a submission a week, so a book is spread over something like four to nine months (or years, if you're George RR Martin). We typically read books much more quickly than that in our spare time. So a book might set something up in chapter one then pay it off five chapters later. In a writers group, that could be more than a month a part and everyone in the group might forget a setup that a normal reader would have experienced at most a night or two before.

So coming into this big hiatus, my group basically said, "break any submission rules necessary to finish submitting the book before the hiatus." Essentially, if I need to go over our normal word count caps a bit to get her done, I have their blessing. They didn't want to have the slow read problem blown up by adding a month of vacation right into the middle of the climax and falling action.

So. I have to fininsh the book. Like pronto. And I had Gaming Con. So I haven't slept much.

And this is a short post.

Toodles.

Post Convention Decompression

Salt Lake City Gaming Con is over, and I think it was a great success. Two days long, I was scheduled for nine panels, although due to a schedule change I missed, I only attended eight of them. I did two Choose Your Own Apocalypse Games, which means I also performed two musical numbers. I won the first, lost the second, although they told me after by only one vote (though it looked like more at the time).

Salt Lake Gaming Con is in its third year. This is the first where the Comic Con people came in as partners. It's my understanding that their numbers had been on a decline and they seemed to have climbed back up steadily this year. While the panel rooms weren't bursting with people (except for my panel on how to be a better GM), the attendance seemed healthy enough.

The first day we set up and got to know the space. It took a bit of time to get our table and badges sorted, but we arrived early so we were ready before the general crowd had entered the dealer room. My panel on MMOs went well (I moderated), and the first Choose Your Own Apocalypse, where I played Friend Computer from Paranoia, versus, Emperor Palpatine and Lolth. My musical number was a sing along to Still Alive from Portal. And between that and a dangerous political joke where I insulted everyone's candidate in the last election, I managed to pull a win. That last joke was risky. I knew that if I didn't have the room, I'd probably lose votes, but I might gain a few if I had the room on my side, and when I said it, I didn't know where I stood, but I knew that I would lose without it, so I gambled. I wrapped up the day with my panel on stories and RPGs.

The second day was more difficult. There are days at cons that are strange, where you feel completely alone, abandoned by all your friends. I don't admit that to many people, but again, I've promised that this blog will be completely honest. I'm pretty good at compartmentalizing that stuff, and Saturday was my best day for both sales and panels. It's safe to say that it might be, professionally, the best day I've ever had at a convention in my life, even while it might have been in the top two worst, personally. Ironically, the other worst day, personally, was another spot on professional day, when I won my first Choose Your Own Apocalypse.

That day started with my panel on whether video games were as fun as they used to be. It moved into my CYOA where I played the Uber-Ethereal from XCom. That time my musical number was Come Sail Away from Styx, which involved a lot more belting than the first song, and my voice was pretty shot, but I made it to the chorus and then it was the audience's problem. I lost that one, but as I said, it was a narrow lost and I lost to a first-time player. I prefer to lose to first time players. Playing that game your first time is harrowing. Then we did a panel on the best video game movies never made, followed by the best panel on how to GM I've ever even seen, much less participated in. We ended with a panel on Mass Effect 3 and Andromeda, which started with Jennifer Hale entering the room, declaring it her favorite panel on the citadel, then saying "I should go." and leaving with a mic drop. I'd been setting that up for thirty six hours (though in fairness all the heavy lifting was done by the head of the celebrity liasons, who had the original idea the day before at lunch.)

We ended with a very rushed pizza at my favorite pizza place in Salt Lake. Then I went home and just shook for about three hours.

It wasn't the biggest con, but it doesn't need to be. As I said on the private facebook group after, we give the same performance for five people that we give for five hundred.

Salt Lake Gaming Con and Working Conventions

This weekend I'll be appearing at Salt Lake Gaming Con on the 7th and 8th. My schedule is pretty full. Here it is:

Friday:

12:00 pm to 1:00 pm Playing MMORPGs While Having A Real Life
1:00 pm to 2:00 pm The Everything Playstation Panel
2:00 pm to 3:00 pm Choose Your Own Apocalypse RPGs: Lolth (D&D) vs Palpatine (Star
Wars) vs The Computer (Paranoia) (Me)
8:00 pm to 9:00 pm Which Came First, the Story or the RPG? The Relationship Between
Writing and Role Playing Games

Saturday:

11:00 am to 12:00 pm Are Video Games as Fun as They Used to Be?
1:00 pm to 2:00 pm Choose Your Own Apocalypse Video Games: The Reapers (Mass
Effect) vs The Uber Ethereal (X- Com) (Me) vs The Umbrella Corporation
(Resident Evil)
3:00 pm to 4:00 pm Hollywood Limbo: The Greatest Video Game Movies Never Made
4:00 pm to 5:00 pm Burning Down the Tavern to When the Dog Eats Your Adventure
Notes: The Ultimate Dungeon Master Guide for Dungeons and
Dragons
6:00 pm to 7:00 pm Mass Effect 3 and Andromeda: What Went Right, What Went Wrong?

While part of this post is to announce my upcoming schedule, let's talk a little bit about why I have that schedule. I've spoken before about how some cons know that they can put me on any panel and I'll either moderate or perform color commentary. Basically, I can make myself useful on any panel even when I don't have what you might traditionally call expertise in the subject matter. I've been placed on panels where military people speak about military sf (I've never served). I was once on a panel with two or three mathematicians speaking about cryptography, a subject I know enough about to write fiction around, but not about directly. Basically, they know that I'll rise to the challenge.

In this case, I'm a professional game designer with more than twenty years experience, so I told them to work me to death. I pitched at least a few of these panels myself (or ones that look enough like them that the planners likely built them out of my suggestion and someone else's), and if you look at the schedule, they have me moderating a great many of them. In fact, if you take out the game show panels, I moderate all but two. That's the trick here. If they didn't know my level of expertise in a subject, they made me the moderator. It's not the moderator's job to be an expert. It's the moderator's job to know the subject well enough to ask the right questions of the audience, and there isn't a subject in something called Gaming Con that I don't know at least that well.

So I have a table with an author's group. This is good because I will spend very little time at the table, and there will be someone to watch my books. (If you want one signed, buy one and find me at a panel). I don't intend to sell a lot at Gaming Con, at least not by my own hand. What I do intend to do, is to continue to make myself as valuable as possible to the people who run Gaming Con. That is a goal in and of itself, but that kind of reputation is what you need as an author in the con community. The fact that these are the same people who run Salt Lake Comic Con is just icing on the cake.

Learning Your Limits

When you work a full-time job and essentially write full time (or very close to it), you have to consider how you manage your schedule. I've decided to do these massive pushes, where during a 2-4 week period, I do enough work that I can take a little time off. And by time off, I mean that I only write seven to fourteen hours during a week, and I can spend the rest of the time decompressing on my own projects. Meaning playing games. Pursuing hobbies. Trying to get back into the headspace for the next big push.

The alternative is to keep a  constant 60-70 hours of work a week, without any breaks, and I can't do that. I'd burn out and go a little crazy. The work would almost certainly suffer.

When I was a game designer, I had a 100,000 word month (That didn't include edits, I had to produce 100,000 new words). It followed another big month of writing and at the end of it, I couldn't function as a writer any longer. My notes coming back from the editor amounted to "Are you okay? Do we need to send help? Do I need to hire Liam Neeson?" I learned at that point that I had limits. I can work hard in bursts, but drive too hard over too long a period, and I burn out entirely.

I don't have any great advice for learning your limits. For most people, the only way to do it is to exceed them and crash and burn. The best advice I can give you is that when you know it might be coming, have someone watching your back, ready to tell you when your text turns to pudding.

Otherwise, your editors might come to the conclusion that you've been kidnapped and your terrible writing is all an elaborate code. Either that or that you've just lost it and are no good to them any longer. But I'd shoot for the first one, you might get to meet Liam Neeson.

Connections

Here's a secret. Authors cheat. We cheat all the time. Constantly cheating. For instance, Damico's personal history is pretty much my personal history with a few exceptions. Lifting my backstory started as a joke and turned into a major cheat. Another cheat evolves out of the fact that you don't want to put a factual error in a book. If you write that people in Switzerland speak Swiss, it doesn't matter if all the characters involved would honestly think Swiss is a language. It isn't. You need to hang a lantern on that somehow. So Damico's memory is about 15% better than mine. If he's complaining about a Star Trek: TNG episode in book 4 of DbC, I have to go back and watch the episode to discover that, no, it wasn't Worf who said that line. It was O'Brien because Worf had left Starfleet in the season finale the episode before and O'Brien stood at his post for those 40 or so minutes of story. I'd forgotten that. A better ST:TNG fan would be offended by that error, especially coming from the mouth of someone tearing down the episode, and so I had to get all the other details right. So I cheat.

And there are other cheats, that are just good process. We call them editing. Most editing is just very creative cheating. Finding creative ways to get around abusing the words "just" and "turned" and "was". Finding that creative solution you had at the end of the book and rewriting the beginning of the book and pretending you had it all along. Stealing a good idea from Writers' Group (which isn't really stealing, since it was given freely, but the Writers' Group could be called one big cheat, couldn't it?) Cheating. You could make that argument that all good processes are really just cheating, codefied as best practices.

I just finished those 80-110 hour weeks I do when I'm editing a novel. In this case the second draft of DbC 4. The book turned out to be in better shape than I had any right to expect. In the end, it mainly boiled down to establishing connections.

When I started that book, I knew there would be a super weapon since it's based on Star Wars (or more directly Hidden Fortress, the movie that inspired Star Wars). But I didn't know what the weapon was until I'd made it about halfway through. I knew what it did, but not the actual Weapon itself, so I couldn't give clues to its identity. So at the halfway point, maybe a little further, I figured out what the Weapon would be, but I didn't have a lot of experience with the particular thing. Damico would, of course, after I edited his backstory (cheating!). So I brainstormed it at my game group, which had at least two people with a lot of experience with the thing in question and one of them came up with the connection to lemonade stands. I would use lemonade stands, in an absurdist manner, throughout the book to foreshadow the Weapon's real nature and a few real die hards out there would figure it out (or get close enough) and feel good about themselves.

Of course, I didn't have any lemonade stands in the first half of the book (because that would be pretty absurd), so I had to make sure I found places to add them on my way through, and I'd added <<Lemonade Stands!!!>>> as a note at the beginning of the first chapter to cascade through my edits.

The other big problem the book had (and might still have, we'll see how the second round of critiques goes), has to do with the epigrams. Howard Tayler made a joke during the second book that spawned the running gag in the fourth book's epigrams, which turned them into one giant meta-joke/story that doesn't pay off until you've read both the chapter quotes and the novel all the way through. Around chapter 15, I started getting notes from critiquers where they'd say things like, "These are funny, but distracting, and I'll stop commenting on that now." Basically, they all gave up on pointing out the problems with them and trying to fix them right around a third of the way through. Then, around chapter 39, I have a line in there where they all said, "Wow. Okay, I'm interested now." Unfortunately, that's near the end of a 50 chapter book.

The secret of that line is that it intimately connected the epigrams to what happened in the main story of the novel in a way that didn't seem possible previously. And by the end, I think they all agreed that the payoff was worth it, but that they wouldn't have taken the whole journey with me if they hadn't been forced to by the nature of a critique group. I think the general attitude was, "I like what you're trying to do here. I hope you figure out some way to pull it off. Good luck."

So. What did I do? I cheated.

I stole a page from The Empire Strikes Back. Hopefully, I did it well enough to work. In The Empire Strikes Back you have two plots, one very exciting (Han and Leia being chased and almost captured or killed at every turn) and one very boring (Luke and Yoda talking philosophically about the nature of reality). The way the screenwriter pulls you through that second plot is by mirroring the first. Han and Leia almost die in a cave. Luke goes into a cave, etc. He borrows the tension and excitement from the first plot and you feel it in the second, even though that second plot, on it's own, hasn't earned it. I tried to do that when plotting the epigrams, but I just couldn't make the parallelism work (I wanted every epigram to hit the same story beat as the chapter itself, but that didn't happen and I see now that wouldn't have solved the problem anyway). So in the final edit, I went through and I foreshadowed that big line in Chapter 39. I found ten or so other lines in the epigrams and I purposely found places to mirror them in the text of the chapters themselves, although never in the same chapter as the quote. So even the least astute reader should see, by chapter four, that there is a direct connection between the two, and while they won't know what it is, I'm hoping the puzzle of trying to work it out will carry them through and keep them from giving up (or at least have them shrug and give me the benefit of the doubt, for those who don't enjoy cracking puzzles but would rather just watch them unfold).

And on the matter of Lemonade Stands? One final happy bit of happenstance?

The opening dialog, first bit of dialog that happens (chronologically, at least)? It's Lotianna in a desert, waxing poetic about the thing she misses most. The thing she misses most? Lemonade. I didn't even have to add that in. It was like I planned that to be a thematic thread from the very beginning.

So sometimes you cheat. Sometimes fate cheats for you.

Or maybe I just cheated by twisting everything in this post to be about cheating. Anyway you cut it:

Connections.

Fyrecon

I spent this weekend pouring my sweat, my energy, and several layers of my vocal cords into the Fyrecon. This was Fyrecon's first year and they made a fine showing. Most of the people involved are old pros at the con scene in one way or the other, but this is the first time they tried to start a con on their own, and a lot of us rooted for them quietly even as we kept our professional reserve. I can honestly say that I couldn't be more pleased.

There were bumps, not all of them their fault. The person before me in Plot a Novel in an Hour was under the impression that he could tear down his huge display of weapons after my presentation started. I don't know if this was his first conference or if he'd just gone over and this was an excuse, but it meant that my most time-sensitive presentation only had forty minutes instead of the normal fifty. It's the only time I've ever not actually finished it (although we were close enough to the end that the audience had all the nuts and bolt, I just didn't get that big finish moment that usually fires up the crowd). That made me sad.

I made new friends. I carpooled with my massage therapist and his wife. My massage therapist is an artist and his wife a writer, both professions had tracks at the conference. The first day we carpooled, only his wife wanted to wake up in time to go up together, so my massage therapist and a third guest rode up seperately, which was fine because I have this ritual. You see, my con personality, I've spoken of it before, takes a LOT of energy. I have to get into character. My current method of getting into character is to sing My Shot from Hamilton at the top of my lungs. I'm friends with Josh and Allison, we go to movies together every Tuesday night and we're about to start gaming together, so I knew that even if she hated that, she'd endure it. I was a little worried about the last day, however, when Josh and this third guest, Haley, would be in the car.

I met Haley that day and she came to Plot a Novel in an Hour. She seemed nice enough, but I was a little worried about the ride up the next day because subjecting someone to 7 minutes of loud, non-consensual hip-hop isn't always the best way to begin a relationship. Then, right before bed, she sent me a friend request on Facebook, which made sense because we used messenger to coordinate all day and that would allow me to not ask "Is Haley with you?" In every new conversation before coordinating lunches and dinners and the like. But under job, there in the friend request were the words "Musical Theater Major." At that point, I suspected it would all be all right. I knew for sure, the next morning when I asked her, "How do you feel about Hamilton?" "I love Hamilton!" "Well, great. Then the next seven minutes aren't going to suck for you." So we sang My Shot. Then she told me that I had given her the Hamilton bug. Well, I could certainly do something about that, so I started the show from the beginning and had a UofU theater major sing to me the entire drive. Which is great when your throat is completely destroyed and you'd really just like to sit back and not have to entertain everyone else for a bit.

We had good classes, great debates. At one moment in the green room, actual tears tears flowed from all the sharing. More bonding related tears at other times, with other people. I got to sit and have a great conversation with Toni Weisskopf from Baen for almost two hours, which I can tell you doesn't happen nearly enough for my tastes. No shop talk. No agendas. Just people sharing their lives. We discussed homes and pets and giving blood and childhood stories and the little things that are trivial to everyone else but mean so much in the moment.

I hear the conference did well financially. They didn't have final numbers last I checked, but I think it did well enough for a second year. I look forward to it. They made a good space for the students. They made a good space for the presenters. All in all, I found it a great experience.

The Benefits of a Long Commute

My mother is disabled and lives with me, but for years before that, I'd drive to her house most every Sunday for dinner and a movie. I lived in Orem, UT. She lived in Salt Lake City. I hadn't discovered podcasts yet, so I spent most of that time listening to music. But more importantly, I spent those 45 minutes, both ways, twice a week, grinding on plot. Drilling down on story problems. Digesting the writing I'd done that week. Planning my writing for the next week. Just working through those mental cycles necessary to work out the issues.

I've joked before how there have been periods where I quit writing on my drive home every night after Writers' Group, only to recommit and figure out my way forward by the time I arrived at my door. Long commute. I have a 25-minute drive to work (35-minutes in good weather when construction starts). Long commute. There are times at work when I just can't stare at the screen anymore and I step into the big conference room and stare off at the big NSA complex off on the distant mountains (I've probably been flagged). Not a long commute, but a few minutes when my subconscious sits idle.

We talk a lot as writers about the importance of butt-in-chair time, and I don't want to discount that, but just as important is that time when you're not working on writing...when your brain can process what you've done and what you're going to do. For me, it's the commute. For you, it might be house cleaning, or yard work, or gardening, or building that shed out back, or pulling cable because your significant other has the same reaction to exposed cables as most people have to snakes. Maybe it's running errands. Maybe it's paying bills. Maybe it's organizing your sock drawer. I don't know, but your conscious mind frees up and can work on the product at hand and suddenly your realize, "Oh. Hey. My plan is super convoluted at the end because it needs to be for it to work out, but the person who made the plan didn't know it needed to be convoluted. She should have made it simple. I need to come up with an excuse for her to have foreseen all this. Dammit."
 
 I'm an outliner, a pantser only by necessity. Still, my favorite moments are when I walk into the climax and realize the hero's plan won't work and that my whole outline for the ending goes out the window, because I don't stop writing, I just start writing desperately, and I think it comes across in the character's desperation. But I don't recommend that for the weak of heart. I suggest figuring out that plan doesn't work about two months before you have to write it, so that you have two months of showers and drives and long meetings where that one guy (you know the guy) is talking for you to figure out what the real plan should be.
 
 I had my first gray hair at seventeen. I started writing in earnest at sixteen. You do the math.

War in Ficition

It's Memorial Day, and I'm thinking about war. This is the first Memorial Day in a long time that hasn't been a convention weekend for me, and I'm not used to using the day for it's intended purpose. This has me thinking some about war in novels.

War can be handled in different ways in different works, of course. It can even be handled differently for different characters. War changes some people. It probably changes most people. My grandfather carried the scars of the World War II until the day he died. His heritage was Italian and the first man he killed (at least the first he knew he killed), was an Italian soldier. The soldier spoke to him before he died. My grandfather never told a soul what the soldier said, but he had nightmares about it most every night for the rest of his life. Some people sacrificed life and limb for their countries. Others sacrificed their sanity and the souls.

But does that mean that all war stories have to be about intense mental scarring and post-traumatic stress? I don't think so. Some people seem built for war. The horrors roll off them. There are different theories as to why this might be, but it boils down to the fact that some percentage of the human population seems born to take human life, when necessary. They aren't serial killers. They don't necessarily enjoy it. They just don't have the switch that causes them unbearable guilt in war or violence when defending others. If you're writing adventure stories, you can certainly assume the characters in your stories are these people.

But I've been thinking about my grandfather, and what he sacrificed. What he endured. When I was young, I read a psychologist talking about mental illness. Unfortunately, I can't quote the source, but he said something like, "I can show you why any person in the world should have gone insane. I can't tell you how a single person, with everything they experienced, stayed sane."

You can tell different stories with the same character. People change. Situations change. My grandfather could have fought for months before that moment where he killed that soldier and exchanged those words (I actually don't know he didn't). Those nameless soldiers in the distance, would they have had the same effect on him? Maybe, maybe not, but if I were telling that story, I would feel justified making that a major turning point in his relationship with war. Most of the war stories he told me were comedies. Stories of adventure and drinking and bar fights. I could tell stories that seemed more like adventure stories before and darker explorations into the pain of trauma after. There was a stark demarcation in his life between the stories of war he told to entertain, and the twitching, horrifying torments that came in the middle of the night.

But we read stories to escape. We read stories to be affected. Sometimes we need the stories to be fantasies. Sometimes we need them to be painfully real. Sometimes we need them to edify the spirit. Sometimes we need to explore the pain we can't express ourselves. Sometimes we honor a person's outer deeds. Sometimes we honor their inner trials.

No one story can cover the full canvas of war. Pick your theme, and just do your best to do it justice.

Dealing With Rejection

This weekend, I watched a video about getting your head in the right place for sales or personal relations. I watch things like this sometimes as little character studies. For instance, I'm a terrible salesman. I do well socially, but when I try to convert those skills to a business setting, I often break down. So if I want to write a good salesman (or conman), I might watch videos of salesmen and conmen trying to teach people how to do their thing.

Anyway, this person was speaking on rejections as an obstacle for a sales call, and I started thinking about rejection as a fact of life in writing. One thing almost every successful writer has in common is that they've been told they aren't good enough far more often than they've been told that they are good, or great, or even competent. Listen to TV writers speak about pitching, for instance. They are lucky if they make one sale for every fifty rejected pitches.

Many of the most popular authors were thoroughly rejected, and I'm not just talking about the ones who's finished work is populist, but of questionable quality. I'm talking about universally beloved books. Dune. Harry Potter. Brandon Sanderson skipped a big part of that portion of his career by just accepting that he would write crap for his first several books and not submitting them.

I don't suggest you do that.

I suggest you take as role models people like Shannon Hale or Kevin J Anderson. Kevin announces how many times he's been rejected at Writers of the Future and often challenges people to show him more rejections than that. Shannon laminated her early rejections into a giant role that she unfurls down panel rooms and out the door in a spectacular object lesson.

Death by Cliché was rejected something like 28 times before I produced it as a podcast to modest success. Between my Writers of the Future contest win and my next big sale, I must have had 300+ rejections. I've never done the math. Rejections are a part of the business.

So how do you deal with rejection?

I celebrate every rejection. I make a point of it. Every rejection, you see, is a step forward in my career. It's a churn. If I don't get those manuscripts out there, and those rejections back, I don't learn and move forward. I listened to these people early in my career and thought, "What if my number is one thousand, and I won't really know success until I've been rejected one thousand times? I'd better get busy."

Or you could sit there and do nothing. Afraid. Stagnant.

Napoleon ordered trees planted along the major roads in France, his reasoning being he wanted the armies of his empire to march in the shade. When one of his advisors pointed out that it would take twenty years for the trees to grow tall enough to shade an army, Napoleon said something like, "Well then what are you waiting for?" Except, you know, it probably sounded smarter when he said it, because he said it in French.

I was just as afraid of rejection, when I started, as the next person. Each letter devastated me. But instead of getting depressed I forced myself to celebrate each one, in some small way. Literally. How depended on my churn rate. If you're getting three a week, you probably can't afford a fancy dinner each time.

At first, I'll admit, it's lip service, but you know what? After a year or so, the sting had faded a bit. It still hurts to this day, but only when I read the rejection. When I see the rejection has arrived, I often give a little "Whoo hoo!" And after the slap fades, I can celebrate honestly now. Not every time. Sometimes the demons still come calling, but usually. Most of the time.

And now, when my last rejection for a project comes in, I'm already plotting my next big move. I'm always thinking ahead.

It might take twenty years, so you better start now. Ask yourself: What are you waiting for?

Except, you know, ask it in French. You'll sound smarter.

Mothers and Writers

It's Mother's Day, or it was when I wrote this, and I don't have any big news, so I thought I'd speak a little about how we become writers. I've done those tours where you go to schools and speak to teachers about getting kids interested in reading, and they usually have me speak on the writing aspect of it. I usually start with something jokey and dismissive like "I can only speak for myself, but the best method seems to be to have your father obsess about writing a novel and then die before completing it, leaving a terrible scar on your eight-year-old psyche." If that doesn't sound very jokey, know that I say it with a great deal of charm.

But in my case, that's just the flashy answer. The more honest answer probably goes back to my mother, who not only read to me at an early age but realized that my appetite for books exceeded the amount of time she could dedicate to reading aloud. So she recorded herself reading to me, with herself making beep sounds to tell me to turn the pages, and gave me the tapes. That way I could have her read to me over and over again, as much as I want.

When I was young, I had two surgeries, one more invasive and more extreme (I don't mind talking about it, but I don't know if you want to read about it so I won't discuss the nature of the condition here), the second a simple tonsillectomy. She knew that I would likely be frightened by both experiences (I might have been two for the first one), so she wrote a picture book for each, called Bobby Goes to the Hospital detailing my completely mundane upcoming trip in such a way that it demystified it. I don't remember having the first one for long, I was way too young, and the fallout of that surgery lasted a long time, but we kept the tonsillectomy book for years, and I would read it and request it over and over. That moment, seeing myself as the main character in a book, with stick figures for all the characters, might have planted the first seeds of writing my own first person narratives.

After that, especially after the death of my father, she probably spent a whole lot of time ignoring my light being on well past my bed time, as I read well into the night. During the Satanic Panic, she didn't blink when I started playing Dungeons and Dragons. I never asked her why, but when concerned parents asked one of my best friends' mothers why she let her son play that "evil game," she said, "Evil game? I walked in the other day and he was trying to figure out how to managed the budget of a small city. I want him doing more stuff like that, not less." I suspect my mother's take was something similar, that the skills I built in the game, or the defense mechanism I gained from it, outweighed any dangers.

There's an old joke, I can't remember which comedian said it. Many have probably done some variation. It talks about how the young boy goes out every weekend with his dad and plays catch. Runs plays. Learns fundamentals. How the dad drives him to games. Shows up. Fights with the coach. Helps him analyze other teams. Watches endless professional games with him, dissecting the teams. Then the kid stands on the sidelines and the camera hits him for his first nationally televised game and he mouths very clearly, for all the world to see:

"Hi, Mom."

When I make that joke about my father, there is truth there. I'm sure his unfulfilled need to become a writer has a great deal to do with my drive to become a writer. But who made my first audiobook? Who made me the character in my first Marty Stu story? Who ignored endless nights of me reading my way through grief and boredom. Who ignored the Satanic Panic and trusted the judgment of an adolescent boy over Paul Harvey? Who was out there, every weekend, laying the fundamentals?

Hi, Mom.

The Eight Thousand Word Wall

We missed recording the audiobook last week. My nose ran and I felt a cold coming on and I feared that if I sleep deprived myself like I do for a normal recording session, my voice would not just be shot, but I'd get fully sick and I'd miss multiple weeks. So this week I came back strong and we recorded for a solid one-and-a-half to two hours.

We got a good session. At the end, we recorded a two-page chapter and I completely fell apart. I hit the wall, hard. An error on every line for the first two or three paragraphs. It was seriously a bridge too far, and we barely finished it, so I learned my limit for a single sitting. If I were to do longer recording sessions, I'd need to take a break at that point, at the very least. Something to clear my mental palette.

I checked when I got home today (yesterday when you read this.) We recorded just over 8,000 words, which works out to be a hair under a tenth of the book. So we didn't quite hit my goal for a session but the progress pleased me a great deal.

I'm grinding on the outline for DbC 6 right now. It's a little a tricky. Not as tricky as 5, which is the hardest thing I've ever plotted and probably ever will plot. But it has its challenges and I'm grinding my way through them. It's the end of a trilogy that started with DbC 4, and I need to get it right. It also fulfills a few promises about the universe in general, and how some of the characters interact with the fact that they live in a game.

On a personal note, I bought a new mattress, a memory foam affair that I hope with decompress my back and release some of the perpetual back pain that I feel. So far, so good. Last night, I went to bed with a hard knot of locked vertebrae in my mid-thoracic. It felt like a fist in my back. In the old days, that would have remained locked until I saw the chiropractor. In this new bed, it loosened up over the night.

The downside is my overall pain levels have gone up while I loosen up, but that's a process I expected. I intend to up my trips to the chiropractor starting this week. Just until we get through that trouble patch where things start moving but they haven't settled into their new configuration.

Well, that's all for this week. Talk to you next.