LTUE Post Mortem

I'm going to be playing catchup over the next couple blog posts. I blame the government.

Life the Universe and Everything was as good as ever from the point of view of the attendees. The only exception, of course, was their arbitrary rule that I can't do my Plot a Novel in an Hour presentation two years in a row. :) Always a crowd pleaser.

But seriously, I had many great compliments from the attendees. At least as many as normal, maybe more. We had a reunion of Writers of the Future Winners and felt like old times and I took a few of the people who were submitting out to dinner after so they could pick the brains of me and Brian Hailes. I made some connections, including a new gaming buddy who I won't name for their privacy until I have permission, but they are new to gaming and a gaming savant. All in all, a very successful symposium.

However, on the professional end, things were very different. Not necessarily different in a bad way.

You see several local people and guests were recently named in the #metoo movement. This colored every interaction we had. I want to stress that I don't think that any of this was bad (the coloring and the naming, not the acts that needed to be named...those were very bad). Most of the people I know who were named gave what seemed to be very heartfelt and well-thought-out apologies. (I'm probably not qualified to judge). At least one of them is a very different person now than the person who did those things. None of that, of course, is an excuse or gets them off the hook. With one exception, where the two accusations seem to have been revoked, these accusations are real. The damage done was real. Nothing that happens now can undo that.

But as someone who hasn't been named, I want to talk about apologies and the power of them. I spoke to one woman at the symposium who will remain nameless, who was the target of harassment by one of the people named. Nothing he does now can change that, but she told me that his apology meant a lot to her. She'd been dreading going to the symposium and seeing him this year, and his apology, well-worded and very sincere, had taken a great weight off her shoulders. I don't want to put words in her mouth, but I could tell that it had meant a great deal to her, where a less-than-genuine apology would probably have made matters worse (at least for the "insulting" values of worse).

I, of course, asked her if I'd ever done anything to make her uncomfortable or to hurt her. I knew what her answer would be before she said it because she and I had a fight some time ago, and I know that how she perceived the fight and how I perceived the fight were different. And that's no excuse. I made her feel gendered during the fight, and it mattered not one wit if I felt justified in the moment. There's no justification for that. Ever. The whole point of being a human being in a civilization is to try to see things from the point of view of the other human beings in the same civilization and to not shit on them. It's never okay to make them feel like you think of them as "lesser". It doesn't matter if you didn't think of them like that. It doesn't matter if you were really mad when you did it. It doesn't matter if it was an accident. None of that matters. You own your actions. Wait, that was too distanced. Let me rephrase. I own my actions. I made her feel like I thought she was lesser because of her gender. I made her feel patronized. If that sounds like weasel language, let me take another run at that. I patronized her. I did that. Nothing else matters.

I apologized to her there in the green room. But just in case I didn't do it well enough, I'm apologizing again. There was no excuse. That was entirely my fault. I should never have done that. It's my responsibility to be a better person than that. You have made me a better person by calling me out on it. So I am sorry. And I am grateful. I don't deserve the grace you showed me, after the fact. I am sorry. Thank you for being the person that you are.

LTUE was a time of self-reflection for all of us. My personality has a splash radius. I'm aware of that. I am fortunate that this is the only incident I've been accused of. I'm sure I've hurt others. If any of you read this, I apologize to you as well. I'm sure you have treated me far better than I deserve.

But we aren't good people, if we are actually good people, by getting things right the first time. If I somehow achieve the goal of being a good person, it's because I screw up and try again. And because others are gracious enough to give me a second chance.

But of course, most of the attendees probably saw none of that. To them, it was just a great symposium. I might not always be sure I'm the person I want to be, but I can be sure that we're all professional when we need to be. All of this?

That's what the green room is for.

LTUE, This Week

This week I'll be participating in Life, the Universe, and Everything. This is an academic symposium and possibly my favorite "con." Maybe because I give myself permission not to try to sell or conduct business there, but just to meet people, network, and make friends. I know those things blur together, but here, they blur together in the green room or at dinner and lunch enjoying myself, and not behind a table. That said, my books will still be for sale at Howard and Sandra Tayler's table, and I should be at the mass signing Friday night.

Here's my schedule:


10am, Cedar (Provo Marriott): How to Run a Useful Playtest (Moderating)
11am, Cascade C (UVCC): So You Want a Revolution?
1pm, Amphitheater (Provo Marriott): Building a Multidisciplinary Career: Writing, Gaming, Film, Art, and More
3pm, Zion (Provo Marriott): Making Money
4pm, Arches (Provo Marriott): Crime Writing


10am, Cascade B (UVCC): Writing Groups 101
12pm, Cascade B (UVCC): Writing Science Fiction Tropes


12pm, Cascade B (UVCC): Pratchett vs Anthony: Humor in SF/F

The full version of the LTUE schedule is available either as an interactive page, or as a giant PDF grid.

The Drive

After I've played a big game like Divinity Original Sin 2, much less two big games like it in a row (I hit the end of the first game over the holidays), I tend to have built up quite the to-do list. If I've been playing normal length games, I might just need a day or two to catch up (barring a major novel edit), or I might be able to catch up on my to-do list an hour a night before I start playing something, at the beginning of the game before I get really hooked. Not so with a truly huge game. Much less, as I said, two.

I've been working for over a week now on various odds and ends, trying to put them to bed before I take some evenings off again. I promised Amber Argyle I'd do another map for her, for her next book. That will be done with just another hour or two of work (the longest parts of those maps are the customer symbols that always come up, and I've finished all of them now). I'm also nearly done itemizing my deductions for my taxes. I assume I still need to do that after the new tax laws. We'll see what the tax guy says after he's had time to look at the numbers. I MIGHT finish both of those Wednesday night. If not, Saturday for sure (I have plans Thursday and Friday).

Also, I went through every digital map I own and reorganized them so I could find them when running a game. That's not really writing related, but it's been bugging me and it gave me something to do when my brain burned out on work that didn't involve me starting a new game. That last is the real risk...that I'll get burned out and need to start something non-work to recharge. That project got me through all these big, tedious tasks like taxes. (The map making isn't tedious, I love it, but I can only work on custom symbols for so long before I flame out.)

So. Things are good. I've queued up a ten-hour game (The Last Guardian), for my next play. That should get me to LTUE and maybe through it. With luck, I'll finish it just as I get notes back on DbC3 just as I finish that. I don't know what's queued up after it. Something long, probably. A gift from Howard Tayler.

Clip Show

LTUE, Life, the Universe, and Everything, a local academic symposium for genre writers, is right around the corner. I've started getting requests for advice from first-time panelists and moderators. I've written a few posts on this subject in the past, so I decided for this week, I'd pull them together into one place. I've discovered, in doing this, that putting together a "clip show" version of a blog post isn't actually less work than just writing a new post. Go figure.

But, I had to do this anyway, and I didn't want to do both. :)

So. Without further ado.

I wrote this post back in 2015. It's a list of advice on panels, both as a panelist and a moderator. In this post, I concentrate on the panel experience itself.

In this post, I discuss conventions in general and my overall convention philosophy. All the advice in here won't be right for everyone, but it's all right for me and I'm sure you'll find a lot of stuff that will work for you. There's advice on panels in here as well, but there's also advice on how to act in the halls, how to act in the restaurants, and how to conduct yourself in general. Remember, if you have any kind of name for yourself: this might be your hundredth interaction of the day, but this may be the only interaction the person you're interacting with has with you in their entire life:

This last post might not be for the faint of heart. If you're prone to anxiety and about to attend your first convention as a professional, might want to hold off on reading this one until after:

That's the most important advice I've given on conventions, I think. The big thing is to remember that this is your job. Give it your all. And take enough time off after to recover. I find my sleep after a convention is just as important as how I conduct myself at the convention itself.

A Quiet Week

This has been a nice, quiet week. Work has been a bit rough, but otherwise, things have been peaceful. Even Writers' Group canceled for a Writing Excuses recording day. So mostly I played Divinity Original Sin 2.

The most eventful thing that happened was my first email interview for a local newspaper. They sent 8 questions, pretty standard stuff. I asked for a target word count. They gave it to me. And then I started crafting my answers. I think I prefer this form of an interview to an in-person one in many ways. While you can't develop any kind of chemistry with the interviewer, and that's a big loss, you can really craft your responses. I worked on one or two of the lines for ten minutes. I'm still not completely happy with them.

But I can't deny that my answers are more polished than they'd be in an in-person interview. And post-edited as well. They don't have any of that fumbling toward an answer that human speech has in the wild, where you start talking without knowing where you're going to end up. Now, part of being a funny guy is having faith that you can start a joke without knowing the punchline and not fall flat on your face. Most of the time. But having a little time for rewrites is much better.

So while it might be ideal to get to charm the interviewer in person, getting to really craft your answers is a big benefit as well. Essentially, it allows you to all but write the article about yourself. They can change and frame what I gave them after the fact, of course, but what they have right now is about 95 percent me, and only 5 percent the interviewer, and that gave me a lot of control over how I come across.

Usually when hear myself in an interview after the fact, I cringe. That won't be the case this time. So that's a big plus. Anyway, I found it a novel experience.

That's it for this week. Soon, as in the next month or so, I should be getting edits on the next DbC novel. Until then, I'll probably take it easy. If I start a big push before then, I run the risk of burning out or getting sick. So I think I'll conserve my strength for the moment. I drive myself into the ground often enough.

Book Release and Back from Vacation

I'm back from vacation. Sort of. I mean, for one, I'm writing this, technically, while still on vacation. Also, I'd bet good money that when you read this, I'm not really back from vacation. I might be working. I might work super diligently. In my heart, however, I'll still be on vacation, and I will be for days. It's hard to come back from a week plus with nothing to do but binge TV, movies, stand-up comedy, and video games. It's broken my work ethic. And my sleep schedule. It's been murder on the diet, but that has more to do with Christmas being an eating holiday and my book release party producing an excess of stress eating and leftover cookies.

So let's talk about book releases. My first book release party was excellent by any first-book standard. I sold about twenty copies. I tell everyone that 20-25 people came, but that's a huge underestimation because not everyone who came bought a book. For instance, a lot of families came and bought one book among them, and several people had already bought electronic copies and just showed up to fly the colors. So the real numbers were likely in the ballpark of forty. We took over Hastur Games that night, spilling into other sections of the store, forming into sub-clicks, etc.

My second book release was not that successful.

There are a few likely contributing factors. First of all, it wasn't my first book release. A whole bunch of people are willing to miss your second event that would never miss your first. It's your first. They have to support you. Your second? Well, they were there for your first and they fully intend to be there for your third, right? Second, it landed right before Christmas, when people didn't have a great deal of disposable income left and holiday plans. I know it was the day after payday and I was already living on credit cards for that check. (Of course, a good portion of that had to do with the book release party.) Third and finally, the weather turned bad that night, and the moment I saw the streets and the snow, I knew there wouldn't be a turnout.

In fact, you could honestly call the turn out a disaster. The only people actually there on time for the event itself were the people who had to be there and the families who had ridden with the people who had to be there, plus my fellow podcaster JC Carter, who had lent us a piece of sound equipment. There were few enough people that Taylor Stapleton, the comic, tried to beg off going on, until I pointed out that every person there had told me that not one of them was there for my book. All the family members (and JC) had told me they'd only come to see Taylor's comedy. True story.

So she performed, and the one table of gamers in the store loved her. And the audience loved her. And we picked up a loyal friend or two by the time we really got started (I delayed a half hour). And the store owner didn't know that those seven or so people had to be there, so he thought it merely a really weak turn out. He didn't know how bad it actually was.

The irony, of course, is that eventually, people did make it, but because of the snow, almost all of them turned up after the main portion of the event was over, when I was just sitting around signing the very occasional book. I'd decided to stay for at least an hour and a half, and in that time I sold four copies.

Taylor said something to me after to make me feel better, and I said, "It's not like I haven't done worse events than this." She smiled and agreed. As a comic, I'm sure she has had worse experiences as well. The crowd we had was great. Just small, and that made it daunting to start. But I've done that book signing where no one comes. Almost every author has, at some point. And I'm sure every stand up has performed to a nearly empty room. Or worse, a dinner theater.

I've done panels with one attendee. I've done signings where every passerby refused to make eye contact. You think, when you start, that the loneliest part of writing is when you're at home with the blank page. Or maybe stuck on a terrible edit. It isn't. Its when you're sitting at that table, and no one has come. It can be worse when you're at that table in a full store and still no one comes.

But this is what we sign up for. A lot of people think they'll be a writer because it's perfect for introverts. That isn't true. The hard part, the most important part, requires you to hang, bleeding, in the open, in public. Smiling. Pretending that everything is all right.

And for me, it was. But I've done this before. Your first time, it won't be. Your first time, it will likely feel like your world has ended.

And maybe it has.

But we build worlds for a living, right? We do that every day. Maybe 500 words at a time. Maybe a thousand. It's the job. We do it daily. Weekly. We do it when we don't feel like it. We do it when we hate life. We do it and we do it and we do it some more.

So when your world comes to an end. You rebuild it. And you go on. Because it will happen again. I promise you. And it will keep happening. You'll keep needing to rebuild. This isn't easy. We don't do it because it's easy.

We do it because we have to.

A Week of Grindstones

I wrote that last post, had about one night of two hours of recreation, and then did the math and realized that I didn't get any more time off until my vacation starts at the end of next week. Unless I finish early (fingers crossed.) I can only count on getting about five days of productive work in during a given week, and I wanted to be finished next Wednesday night, if possible. See, I've been fighting off a cold and I learned when I did that draft of DbC 4 and then went straight into a convention that if I do that, I'll get pneumonia, so I'm relatively certain that if I do my normal 5 hour nights during this book, my immune system will lose the fight and I'll get sick right away. So I figured I need to add at least one extra day into that schedule.

So, at the end of the first week, I'm pretty close to halfway done. By the time you read this, I should be halfway done. Its going pretty well.

Meanwhile, Audible rejected DbC 2 again, for technical reasons. At least one of those reasons was super valid and would have been very embarrassing if it had made it through (it was shrapnel left over from a change they made us make the first time around). We've made those changes and I've done a full audit of the files. I think I've found all the little glitches. We're reuploading them for approval.

Meanwhile I'm trying not to fall behind on DbC 6, which is where all that loss of sleep usually goes. So far, that's worked out because I've had a couple events cancel, but we'll see if that holds up.

That's all for this week. Even with the enforced extra sleep, I'm very, very tired. Hopefully I'll stop being sick soon.

But the work doesn't stop just because I feel like crap.

Updates on Books 3, 4, 5, 6, and Beyond

All right. For a long time, I've been playing Dying Light. I started it in October as my Halloween game and it's a long game. Also, my schedule is busier now, both socially and writing-wise, so I don't often get a solid day of playing on any given game. Part of that is that my "game" time has partially been taken up by some roll20 character sheet design that I probably shouldn't have let myself get roped into. But that really is just all on a personal note. It hasn't really affected anything professionally. It's mostly taking longer because it hasn't affected anything. I'll keep taking nights off from it to work on writing stuff. I can't finish an 80-hour game in two weeks anymore, barring a major staycation.

So, updates! Book 3. I noticed that I hadn't heard anything from my publisher for a while. It turned out to be my fault because when I nudged the publisher about it, they asked me if I'd ever sent them the signed contract. I checked and found out that I, in fact, hadn't. I merely thought I had. So I sent that in and received my editorial assignment. We'll start that in earnest right after the holidays with a tentative release date set next year.

Book 4. I've been sitting on Book 4 while waiting for movement on Book 3 (not realizing that was my fault). I'll run it through their style guide this week and send it in.

Book 5. The first draft is done. This will be my project as soon as I finish Dying Light, or sooner if it looks like a risk I won't finish Dying Light in time to finish Book 5 before my Christmas Break (I try not to do be draft revision during my actual vacations, so I'll want to time it to be done before the 21st, which is my first day off, or better yet, the 20th which is the night my vacation starts.)

Book 6. This was my big push of NaNo, and I hoped to have enough of it done that I could kinda take December off, but the fact that it's a comedy and that whole rib/lack of sleep thing through a wrench in that. Still, I haven't missed a writer's group so I'm still on schedule, and I just passed the midpoint in the novel, so it's coming along nicely.


I don't know what happens beyond book 6 yet. I don't intend to stop DbC novels, but I might well take a break and start alternating in other novels. I might try to take them in a slightly new direction. At the end of book 6, I feel like they want to branch out. Book 6 is kinda my Return of the Jedi (in more ways than one). I'm not sure what the series looks like after. I'm curious to figure that out.

Hopefully a few of you are too.


So you're probably expecting a final NaNo update, but instead, I'm going to talk about ribs and degenerate into a discussion on health. Feel free to skip it if spinal health isn't your thing. On Thanksgiving, I dislocated 3-5 ribs. The experience was...let's say...bracing. This isn't the first time its happened, but it's one of the worst, and I couldn't breathe when I lay down to go to sleep every night. Friday a friend's wife managed to pop the three worst ribs back into place, which allowed me some relief, but I still had a great deal of trouble sleeping. I went to the chiropractor on Monday, but that didn't take and so I went Wednesday again.

The offshoot is that I'm just starting to get something like real sleep again. The vertebrae that caused the initial problem, sending the muscles into spasm and pulling the ribs out of their positions, still keep pinching nerves. I don't know how long it will be before I'm completely back to where I was, but I'm working on it.

I made the observation during the worst parts, in a moment of despair and pessimism, that this always seems to happen when I'm on vacation. Then I started to wonder if that was something other than just confirmation bias, but something about taking a week off work that messed up my back. I think it came clear Monday after my chiropractor appointment. I went home and sat in my comfy chair and within 20 minutes my back clicked out again. I used the restroom, then when I came back, I didn't put the footrest up (my comfy chair is a recliner). An hour later I felt much better. Now, a year or two ago, I had the back of that chair rebuilt, better than new, with extra reinforcement for back support, so I'm pretty sure it isn't a matter of it just being old. I think it's just that any recliner, unless its a solid chair sculted to a spinal shape, requires your postural muscles to hold your back in position. A weekend of that isn't a big deal, but after five days, my back snapped out of place, unable to handle it.

So I think that's the key. I got the chiropractor to give me a set of excercises to strengthen those muscles. Hopefully they will be better before christmas. Either way, I'm going to spend Christmas break alternating between reclining and sitting up, so that those muscles don't have to work for very long at one run. I think that's a plan.

Oh, and I didn't finish NaNo.

I'm on Vacation!

This week is me watching streaming television, playing with my entertainment setup, and trying not to get carpal tunnel syndrome playing Dying Light. There will also be the eating of turkey. And perhaps reflecting on thankfulness and the like.

As writers its very important to recharge our batteries. When I first started as a professional game designer, I had a 100,000-word month during an already busy time. At the end of that month, one of my publishers contacted me, after I'd turned in one of the books to ask me if I was all right. I still think fondly of her because she didn't think, "Bob is a crappy writer," or "Bob has lost his edge," but "Bob doesn't turn in work like this unless he's broken."

That's when I learned that I can push myself too hard, and that I need to take time for myself sometimes. I'll get pneumonia. I'll burn out. Then again, sometimes I write blog posts when I intended to just write "I'm on Vacation," scribble a single line, and then stop.

Because we're writers, and we might have a problem. But recognizing it is the first step, right?

NaNoWriMo Week 2

So, NaNo, week 2.

I finished last week with the question about how week two would be and what it would hold. If you've looked at the counter on the right, you'll see it went just about as well as week 1. Except that I didn't have a dental emergency. Although the filling from my first dental emergency did fall out, so I did have a dental event. I just decided it wasn't worth my time to get fixed. There was always a question about whether it would hold. It was a gamble, if a seventy or so dollar one.

But enough on whether or not I have a rough spot on my tooth. We were talking about NaNo. I put up another five thousand words or so last week. Was home sick two days, although that didn't necessarily impact my production very much. Writers Group went well. Didn't seem impacted by the fact that they were mostly NaNo words, which worried me some. I'm confident in my ability to write more dramatic fiction during November, but as I probably mentioned last week, this is my first time trying comedy, and comedy is hard.

So. Week three. I have a huge number of demands on my time this week. It seems almost every minute of it is booked, so writing time will likely have to come from my sleep cycles. Let's see how it goes.

NaNoWriMo Week 1

Wow. NaNo can be hard. :)

I've won NaNoWriMo two or three times in the past (to "win" means that you completed it, finishing more than 50,000 words by the rules of the contest). I have a full-time job each time, but at no time was it a high-demand job. In the past, my NaNoWriMo pattern went like this:

I set my novel goal at 100,000 words. I tore it up for the first three-quarters of the month, hitting my daily goal pretty much every day (or making it up the next day if I didn't). Then, around Thanksgiving, I'd take the day off to spend time with family. About that same time, I'd flame out, but at that point, I'd be in the 70k word range. I wouldn't go back to writing the book in November, or for the rest of the year for that matter, because I'd have enough material to feed my Writers' Group well into January.

Other writers would watch my progress and send me death threats.

There are two main things different about this NaNo.

1) This time I'm writing a comedy. Comedy is much more difficult to write than Drama/Action. Once I've outlined a dramatic work, I know pretty much how every scene looks. Things change as I write them, of course: no battle plan survives contact with the enemy and no novel outline survives contact with the word count, but a drama actually benefits from NaNo here. When you have a great idea while you're writing, your ability to execute it well is aided by having less time to forget it between having the inspiration and having the opportunity to execute it. There are exceptions, of course, but I'd say I forget far more great ideas than I have great ideas become more spectacular by germinating over time. The idea can still germinate over time after you write it into a book...that's what second drafts are for. A forgotten idea is often forgotten forever.

But comedy. If I know what I'm writing, I write a thousand words in about forty minutes. So if I'm trying to hit two thousand words in a day because it's NaNo and I want to be a little ahead, that's less than an hour and half of writing. Round up once you add in pulling things up, getting the outline ready, firing up iTunes, getting my drink and the like.

Comedy on the other hand, usually takes at least twice as long. Often longer. There's a joke, I think in book two, where I say, "There was enough blood to fill Wembley Stadium with pudding." That joke took me an hour to research. First I had to come up with the idea of the joke, which probably took me five or ten minutes. When I hit on the idea of making a blood pudding joke, I decided that I needed to come up with an analogy for blood pudding. After a bit of noodling, I decided that it needed to be a sports analogy and it should be hyperbole about volume. I went through every sports arena I could find in Scotland looking for one that a US reader would recognize by name, and finally decided that there probably were none, and while I don't explain my jokes in DbC (unless explaining them is the joke itself), they have to have some chance of landing. Then I expanded my search and found Wembly stadium, which has broad, international name recognition. Finally, I researched the penetration of blood pudding to determine that while it's a Scottish dish, it is certainly still eaten in England, at least enough that I felt good making the joke. When Howard Tayler, professional humorist, complimented the joke and I told him it took me an hour to research, he just said, "Welcome to my world."

NaNo is about writing fast. But this is my job. DbC 6 cannot suck because I wrote it during NaNo. I wrote one of my favorite trunk novels during NaNo. (It's at Baen right now, made it past the slush pile, and had been under consideration for a couple years). I don't slack on quality just because it's November.

2) I have a much more demanding job now. The first day of NaNo, I had a dental emergency. While the work itself wasn't too traumatic, when you aren't scheduled, you spend a lot longer in the chair because they work on you between the other patients. This time, it amounted to two and a half hours. I have a bad back, and this crippled me. If you know me, you know that I can't completely survive without pain pills, but I've come a long way. There have been times when I've needed to take six a day. I'd gotten to the point where I was taking them maybe one or two a week and I've gone two or three weeks taking none at all. After that dental visit I'm back to two or three a day, and likely will be for a month, until I recover.

Days two and three came in the first days of a big rollout at work, and I'm the point of the spear. The first of those I worked ten hours. The second I worked nine. So I can't just clock my eight hours and leave anymore. I have big boy responsibilities these days.

Still, I managed more than 5k words the first week, so I'm happy. You can see my joy on the widget to the right. You can also track my progress there, and compare my progress against your own.

Lets see what week 2 holds!

FearCon and NaNoWriMo

I spent this weekend at my first FearCon, which was fun. Except for the fact that I didn't bring any horror books to sell. I didn't actually confirm that I'd be at the convention until just a few days before and so I didn't have any of my horror anthologies there. You see, at almost every convention I do, there are about ten people selling those same anthos, and so I just direct people to one of them, and sign them when they come back to me. But with this being FearCon's second year, it wasn't really on my radar yet and so it sort of snuck up on me. While I was more than ready for my panels, I didn't have my supply of product ready for sales. But I don't go to these things to make a profit, so that part didn't really bother me.

My two normal panels went well if the noise levels were a little sub-optimal. We met great people. I think we imparted some good knowledge, and I'm pretty proud of what we did. In of Choose Your Own Apocalypse game, I played the werewolves again, and I won. There's a video of my Facebook feed of me singing Werewolf of London, should you really want to see it.

Also, I've decided to do NaNoWriMo this year. I have participated in years because I'm almost always mid-project when it begins, but this year I just learned about the Zokutou clause, which allows for people who've already won Nano to count words of works in progress (not prior words, you're just allowed to start counting whereever you are when November starts). I'm about 25k into DbC 6, so I'm just going to pick it up right where I am and start from there. I'll post my word counts to twitter to help inspire my Nano peeps.

That's it for this week. I hope everyone's stoked and ready for Novemember!

FearCon and an Update

So, it appears that I'm going to FearCon here in Salt Lake. I scheduled the time off a month ago, but I found out that I was actually scheduled...yesterday? So yes. I'll be a FearCon. I'll be selling books at a booth. I'll be at two panels plus a Choose Your Own Apocalypse Panel. There will be a musical number. If the audience seems into it, there may be dancing. We'll see. I've never been to a FearCon before. They are fairly new.

As for the book update, Audible rejected the audiobook for minor technical issues I won't bore you with. I've sent it back to the producer, but the offshoot is I suspect it will be at least another two weeks before it releases. So I'll officially announce book two in the next day or two. Expect a series of punch-drunk tweets. It's been a very, very difficult week.

I've got nothing else. It's going to have to be a short one.

Two (Or One and a Half) Out of Three

When Death by Cliché released, I believe all three formats of the book came online the same day. I had a feeling this wasn't going to happen with this book. For one thing, I believe we turned in the audiobook a bit later this time than last, so it hasn't had as much time to go through the approval process. For another, I've become more pessimistic. So since I haven't announced the book yet, let me start by updating on the three formats and where they stand as of the writing of this blog post.

The kindle version came online on the release date. Since it was available for preorder, that isn't particularly surprising. The paperback came online Friday, but its metadata doesn't match the kindle version, so they don't show as different versions of the same book (for one thing, the title displays differently). I told the publisher about that Friday night, but it's just been the weekend since then, so they haven't had time to fix that. The audiobook is still pending approval. If I remember DbC correctly, I expect that will probably pass approval sometime this week. Next at the latest. Unless it's rejected, of course.

I still don't want to make a big push without having all three versions to sell, and there's no reason to make a big deal about it. The people who really want copies are already buying them, so I can wait. I'm patient. I probably don't get a lunch break tomorrow at work, but I'll likely set up my book release party the next day.

In the meantime, the beta for Fantast Flight's Legend of the Five Rings RPG came out, so I've been reading that and building a character sheet for Roll20. That's devoured a lot of time and distracted me nicely. Tonight after I finish this post I'll get to go back to playing my second Halloween video game, which will probably be my last Halloween videogame. It's Dying Light, and it's huge. It will likely take me past Halloween itself. I'm enjoying the game, it's just big. It was a present from my friend Dan Willis.

But that's it. Most of my time right now is distracting myself before real sales numbers come in. The waiting can devour the corners of your sanity, and my sanity has never been great to begin with.

Or at least that's what the voices claim.

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

This week (theoretically when you read this) Death by Cliché 2: The Wrath of Con releases. I'm not sure if all the formats will release at the same time. I'll probably save my big release announcement for either when all three formats are out or for when two of them are out and I know that the third will be on a considerable delay (if Audible sends back the audiobook for formatting work, for instance). Anyway, I write these in advance, so you might well already know the answer to that question before me. Perhaps I'm already annoying you in my social media stream. More likely, the formats are coming available in stages and I haven't said anything to announce the book yet.

I finished DbC 4 yesterday (as you read this). I'll parse that through the submission doc for the publisher and submit it pronto. Then I'll play my Halloween games (a yearly tradition) a little break before I start DbC 5's big edit.

This isn't a big post. The week before a release is a weird, tense time for me. I'll likely be more verbose next week.

A New Trope

Last week I started my big edit of Death by Cliché 4: A New Trope, prior to turning it in to the publisher. The timing came about because of two specific details. One, Comic Con was over, and I learned at FanX that if I draft a book during a Con I will wreck my health, and two, I needed a very specific expert critique for DbC 4 and I wanted an unbiased read on it, so I couldn't tell the people in question why I needed their critique. This meant none of them were especially motivated to finish. Critiquers are fickle. It's not at all unusual for me to have three or four (or even nine or ten) people not turn in a critique for every one who does, and since I didn't want to tell the people why I needed their feedback, this was no exception. It was Tuesday night last week before someone came through and I finally received the feedback I needed. The feedback was a green light to go forward. The reader in question had a couple good notes unrelated to the question I asked, but important to her perspective, and I was happy to receive them, but I totally didn't screw up where I was terrified I'd screwed up. So that was good.

Now: I'm done being all vague.

As of this writing (Sunday night), I'm almost halfway through the draft by word count. I am SO happy with how the book has shaped up. The book is my tribute to my great love, Star Wars, but to keep it from being too derivative I took it back to the original source, not watching A New Hope again, but instead watching Lucas's inspiration for the film, The Hidden Fortress, (and also Kagemusha, because I wanted to ruminate a little more on the plight of a double in Asian society). I'm really happy with the book at the moment. I feel like it's dancing in and out of the script of A New Hope in strange and interesting ways. At least one of my readers thinks so. We'll see if others do as well. It might be my best book.

I mean, until we get to five, of course. And then maybe six. We'll see. You hope you just get better at this as you go.

But let's get real. Even the Michael Jordan threw a brick once in a while (Not that I'm comparing myself to Michael Jordan, although I might write better than him, I haven't checked). Part of me is cringing and waiting for that moment of failure. It's easy to think that your career will be a steady hill to climb. It's harder to think of it as peaks and valleys and that your second book might be less successful than your first, or that your fifth might bomb, or that you might have to burn your first pen name at some point and start over, as some authors do. But these things happen. Of course my second book isn't out yet. I'm just discussing theoreticals. My second book is far superior than the first. Not that the first is bad, but there's ten years of experience between the two.

So I'm borrowing trouble.

I think I did this right before DbC released too.

Post Comic Con and Pushing Through the Pain

Salt Lake Comic Con has come and gone, and I'm slowly recovering. I was on four panels, and they all went mostly well. I only had complaints on one, the Expanse panel, and those complaints stemmed from us not covering the subjects various attendees came expecting to see. Since each of the complaints actually wanted us to cover a different subject, I'm not sure there was much we could have done about that one. That was Thursday, and I spent most of the rest of the day selling books, finishing up with a panel on RPGs for beginners. That was great fun. Good discussions with better people (Julie Johnson, Leigh George Kade, and especially Eileen Dobbins and Mark Middlemas, who I still maintain have crushes on me).

I had my obligatory Tolkien panel on Friday, which is my favorite part of Comic Con these days. I joke that it's me, Paul Genesse and my three Tolkien girl friends for that panel (Julie Andelin, Jennifer Jenkins, Kathryn Purdie). Larry Curtis moderated. Paul, Julie, Jennifer and I have done more of these than I can count. Kathryn and I go all the way back to college.

We finished with another near-annual tradition for me... moderating the action scene panel with Larry Correia, Peggy Eddleman, Emily R. King, Brian McClellan, and Eric James Stone. This panel is a great joy to me. I love moderating it and it's a great way to wrap up the con. By that point, I can't so much as keep shoes on while I moderate, I'm so wrecked, but I wouldn't give it up for the world. We finished up with my traditional pizza trip to Rusted Sun in Salt Lake, then I got roped into drinks at a bar with a bunch of people I didn't know. Which turned out to be great and wild at the same time.

And now we hit that point in the blog where I put my money where my mouth with, and honestly tell you what things are really like, behind the scenes, for the author.

This Comic Con was rough for me. Two days before, my mother had orthopedic surgery on her skull. See, seven or eight years ago, had breast cancer which moved to the thyroid (technically the cancer is just in remission, I guess). One of the drugs they gave her is an estrogen blocker known for bone degeneration and necrosis in the jaw and head area. This disintegrated the bones above the teeth in the front of her mouth and caused rampant infection that's persisted for a year or more. They needed to take out the infected bone and perform a cadaver bone graft. My mother is retired and disabled and lives with me. I've had major bone reconstruction surgery on my hand (the most excruciating thing I've ever experienced) and I've lived through watching someone recover from something half that painful. I can say without hesitation that I'd rather go through the surgery again than watch the other, much less go through it with my mother.

But we don't really get to choose when it's time to be an adult or a professional. Right up until the morning of the con, I thought I would have to cancel. The infection, although the bone had been removed, seemed to have released into her system in general and she had a fever that spiked the day before. It hit its peak about 1 am the morning of Comic Con, but had broken by dawn. So with neighbors to look out for her and her health in good order for the first time since the surgery, I left cautiously for Salt Lake. (Also, my assistant made it clear that she'd rush to my house in the case of an emergency, and she wasn't heading to the con until later in the day, so I had that safety net).

I sometimes think I do better at these public performances the more messed up things are in my personal life. I'm pretty sure only my assistant is the only one who knew just how bad things were during the convention (more than she suspected, of course, since the surgery wasn't a secret, nor was the fever). But at this point, I'm pretty good at compartmentalizing these things, and it just gives me more energy to pour into my panels and fan interactions. Not everyone can do this. It's my personal flavor of dysfunction. Other people get social anxiety. I pour my energy into entertaining others while quietly panicking about how my mother might be at home, in agony, lying to me about whether or not the pain pills are really working. It doesn't help that is she was lying she'd just as successfully lied to me to my face that morning, and being at home wouldn't help. Or that she didn't get out of bed all day that day anyway, and my presence in the house wouldn't have done much good. The Catholic guilt runs strong in this one.

But sometimes there's nothing you can do but be helpless and keep working in spite of it. Sometimes you have to be spectacularly charming and handsome and sexy and talented even when you're screaming inside. Sometimes you have to glad-hand when you don't think you can do another minute. Now, you have to know your limits, but that was all within my limits, and so I pushed forward. My limits involve sleep and health and not editing during a con or else I'll get pneumonia. They don't involve backing down from the social. Other people can push themselves physically much farther than I can, but they'll collapse under social pressures that I thrive under.

Know your limits. Drive yourself. Don't stop. It's a lie that pain always makes us stronger.

But it doesn't go away just because we stop, either.

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.