Thursday, July 31, 2014

Convention Panels and Expertise

So, this was a response I got to the last blog on ArmadilloCon, specifically in response to my self-admitted lack-of-expertise in the subject of the panel I was on:

I keep pushing the idea that participation in convention panels should be open to the public, and the panels pitched SXSW-style: that is, a group of panelists puts together a panel proposal, and then members vote on the panels they want to see. All too often people in the audience (at least some of them) know more about the subject than those on stage. 

It's an interesting idea, but for a volunteer organization to implement successfully... pretty challenging.  The sausage-making of coordinating the schedule of some several dozen programming participants into a cohesive set of panels, readings and events is an undertaking, especially when done almost entirely out of love.  Adding another layer of democracy to that undertaking is not something I would wish on anyone.

That said, the underlying complain has validity.  Lord knows that at the conventions I've attended, I've seen some panels where the members really didn't have much business being on it.  Hell, I've been on panels where I didn't have much business being on it.  At least this time around, my two more problematic panels were subjects I had an interest in, and had done some research on the subject beforehand. 

Even if you line up participants-to-panels perfectly, however, any panel that isn't just one person giving a set lecture (and thus... not really a panel) is going to be an organic thing.  Unless the moderator rules it with an iron fist, it's going to go where the people on it are going to take it. 

Not to mention, any given panel usually has its title and, perhaps, a sentences or two of extra description.  The programming coordinator might have had one idea of what a panel is going to be about, while the participants might-- each individually-- have another, and members of the audience something completely different from all of that.  Sometimes you just ride the wave where it takes you.

On top of that, when the context is a SF/F/Genre/Lit Convention, I don't think anyone in the audience is expecting or demanding of academic credentials from the panel.  They know that the panel consists of spec-fic writers who are mostly doing what they know best: speculating and story-telling.  Besides, in my Alcohol In Speculative Fiction panel, I don't think anyone wanted me to drone on about the history of development of beer, wine and distilled spirits. 

All that said, there's nothing wrong with just plain bowing out of a panel in which you would truly be out of your depth.  I was assigned one originally at ArmadilloCon that I was totally at a loss about, and immediately asked to be taken off it. 

Though, to a degree, if you're up on a panel, on some level you are presenting yourself as an "expert", and it's good to do your best to show yourself as one.  Or, if nothing else, be up front about your lack of expertise.  And be entertaining.  That's the thing I most want from a panel, after all.

Monday, July 28, 2014

ArmadilloCon Survival Report

So now ArmadilloCon is done, and it was a lovely time.

Friday was the Writers' Workshop, where we had plenty of good discussion in the morning sessions, and my critique students were an excellent group of people who are all on the verge of breaking through to the next level.  There were some administrative snafus (i.e., mistakes on my end of things), but our astounding volunteers Rebecca, Melissa and Beth helped keep things from flying off track. 

Plus I made sure Stina got a round of applause for all her years running the workshop.  Apparently next year, I'll be in charge.  Still contemplating that.

After the workshop, I swung home briefly* for dinner, and came back for my evening panels.  First was Protecting the Indigenous Tribes, which I had been a bit nervous about, but it went nicely, mostly because my panel-mates had interesting things to say, and we had a small-but-engaged audience.  Next was the raucous 40 Years of D&D, in which we mostly talked about our personal history with playing, favorite characters we played, and how it influenced our writing.  And we had to roll for initiative to talk.  Lots of fun, especially talking about how my love of playing thieves and mages influences the central character of Thorn, and the fun you can have role-playing a character with a terrible stat. (Namely, a Constitution of 5**)  After that, I ended up talking to Mark Finn and Mark Carroll more about gaming.  (Or, more correctly, listening to them, since I was starting to fade out.)

Saturday, I returned for another of my nervous-about-this panel on Aztec mythology in genre fiction.  Again, it went better than I had feared it would.  I didn't make too much of a fool of myself, though we had one audience member who consistently had a light shake of her head and an expression of No, wrong, wrong.  I found out after the fact that she was a PhD in Anthropology specializing in Mezoamerican cultures, so she probably had good reason.  If you're reading this: Sorry.  If I had known, I would have dragged you up with us.

Alcoholic Drinks in Fiction became Alcoholic Drinks in Writers, since a wonderful member of the audience bough drinks for the panel.  I may have prompted that a little.  But it was a very fun panel.   I hung around and did the BarCon thing for a while, mostly talking with Amanda Downum about each others work and alcohol, with Alex Renwick about the Olde Days of South Congress***, and becoming new Best Con Friends with Kat Richardson.  Who is awesome.  Plus many, many, many other people.

My reading went well, where I read the first chapters of both Thorn and Murder of Mages, and I was quite pleased.  And I can fill up an hour, apparently.  Good to know.  After a bit more BarConning, my wife arrived at midnight to sweep me off to her event in a different hotel.

Sunday's panels were early, which was a bit painful (see: swept off at midnight to a different event), but went well.  Best Cons in Genre Fiction was loose and free-form, but Don Webb and Jayme Blaschke are very smart guys to be sitting in a panel with, so it worked quite well.  The coffee had kicked in by the time I did Overhauling a Character, so I got to end my official con duties on a high note, as that was a good, vibrant discussion.

After some more Sunday-Afternoon-Decompression BarCon stuff, I stumbled home and fell down.  But now I'm feeling ready and vital, on the whole a successful con, in as much as one can measure "success".  Plenty of people seemed to be quite excited about Thorn and Murder, and one even said I had already earned a "fan for life".  I'll take that, thank you.   I'm ready to get moving on the rough draft of Murder of Mages II, editing Thorn II and projects beyond.**** 

Looking forward to next year.


*- Personally, I loved having the hotel relatively close to the house this time around.
**- For those unversed in game-speak, that's essentially being quite out-of-shape or otherwise unhealthy.
***- By which I mean the 90s.
****- I actually got an offer for a small Project Beyond, so I need to think about what I might do for that.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Perils of the Writer: The Long Upward Struggle

Tomorrow morning is the Workshop, and my whole weekend is ArmadilloCon (my schedule) so I don't have too much time to write here today.  

But I wanted to talk a bit about how getting to where I am has been a hard struggle.  It's always been hard work, and plenty of times I really questioned myself whether it was worth it. Not to mention the world is full of discouragement.  The odds of getting an agent's attention are astronomical.  Publishers aren't interested in new writers. 

It's very hard to even get to here.  But like Jimmy Dugan says, the hard is what makes it great.

But that means you've got to fight through the hard.  You've got to get up each time you're knocked down. You've got to take every scrap of encouragement and forage it together-- even some spare words of, "You've got a lot of real talent" and make that the only meal you're going to get all year. 

It. Is. Hard.

But it's very possible.

Keep fighting.  See you in the word mines.

Monday, July 21, 2014

My Final ArmadilloCon Schedule

 ArmadilloCon is this weekend, which means I'm in crunch mode.  I've actually tackled quite a bit of my to-do list for this month, but I still have a few big things to do before the conference.  Here's my schedule, and some more cohesive thoughts about each one.  This is all, of course, in addition to the Writers' Workshop, which is all day on Friday.

Protecting the Indigenous Tribes 
Fri 8:00 PM-9:00 PM Room E 
Maresca*, Compton, Wright 
Indigenous peoples confront a diverse range of concerns. What should be done to ensure their existence? 

I have to admit, this one gives me a lot of pause, if for no other reason than the very title is fraught with landmines.  This is an easy conversation to go south with, and I'll confess I do not have any sort of first-hand experience on topic.  I know one point I'd like to hit is how to apply this to SF/F fiction, since, you know, it's an SF/F Lit conference, not an anthropological one.

40 Years of D&D 
Fri 9:00 PM-10:00 PM Room F 
Benjamin*, Finn, Maresca, Marmell, Sarath, Wright 
How did D&D inspire authors? 
I haven't been playing D&D for 40 years, but I started within its first decade (and my own).  I know that my own experience with fantasy as a genre has a lot of roots in D&D.  This should be a fun one. 

Sat 1:00 PM-2:00 PM Room E 
Richerson*, Maresca, Oliver
Discussion of Aztec mythology and why it isn't used in more genre stories. 
This is the other one that gives me some pause, though I'm a little more comfortable with the subject matter.  Nothing which would qualify me as an "expert" in any sense, but certainly bringing Mesoamerican and, in a more modern context, Mexican sensibilities to genre fiction is a topic I'm interested in.
Alcoholic Drinks in Fiction 
Sat 5:00 PM-6:00 PM Room F 
Maresca*, Acks, Allen, Downum, Renwick
Discussing the drinks mentioned in stories, movies and tv. 
I've long been a big proponent of using food in fiction as a means of showing worldbuilding and character, and alcoholic drinks are a key subset of that.  An entertaining subset at that.  So I'll do my best not to be dry and academic about the history of beer or something.
Sat 8:00 PM-9:00 PM Southpark A 
Marshall Ryan Maresca
An hour all about ME.  So come to Southpark A and hear me read, probably from both Thorn of Dentonhill and A Murder of Mages.  And, depending, there will be some Q&A.  By which I mean, if someone asks me questions, I will do my best to answer them.

Best Cons from Genre Books 
Sun 10:00 AM-11:00 AM Room D 
Webb*, Blaschke, Maresca 
Not many people are good at writing capers. Which books do it right? 
 I love a good caper.  To an extent, Holver Alley Crew is a caper.  This should be fun.

Overhauling a Character 
Sun 11:00 AM-Noon Room F 
Maresca*, Bracken, Carl, Chang, McKay, Rogers 
Now that you have written a book, go back and rewrite your main character.
I have specific stuff to say here, about the revision process of A Murder of Mages from rough draft to sold draft.  I'm sure everyone else will as well. 

So that's it.  I hope to see some of you there.  If you come, say hello.  I know I'd greatly appreciate it.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Worldbuilding: Columbian Exchange in Secondary Worlds

Many of the worlds you'll build will have multiple continents, and if you're doing things correctly, each of those continents will have their own biodiversity.  Each one will have its own specific native plants and animals that may or may not be domesticatible, and the nature of those species help determine the civilizations that thrive there. 

But sooner or later in the history of your world, those two cultures are going to meet, and when they do... interesting things will happen.

Some call when that happened in our world-- when Eurasian/African biodiversity met American-- the Columbian Exchange.  Now, just ignoring the political and social elements of what happened when Columbus and those that followed him came to Americas, on a pure level of biological exchange, it was incredibly uneven for the Americas.

By which I mean, the Columbian Exchange meant that the cultures of Europe, Asia and Africa got. to name a few: potatoes, beans, corn, blueberries, peppers, tomatoes, chocolate and vanilla.  Foodstuffs and flavors that were nutritiously dense and became integral parts of the diets of those cultures, and helped result in population booms throughout those continents.  And the Americas got a Disease Apocalypse.  Yes, the Americas also got horses, pigs, cattle and wheat, but those mostly came with settlers who moved into the Americas, which was relatively easy to do, what with the Disease Apocalypse, killing an estimate 80% of the population.

So, that's the big question: does your worldbuilding take into account what may (or did) happen when Culture A crosses the ocean and meets up with Culture B?  Will that exchange be relatively equal, or will it strongly weigh in favor of one or the other?  How will those cultures see each other?  Will there be unintended consequences from that meeting?  How will your world be changed?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Edits and Research and Maps, Oh my!

This blog has, unfortunately for the moment, devolved a bit into "Stuff is happening and I'm busy!"  Today is no exception to that.  In part because I'm finalizing the edits for Murder of Mages so I can turn it in tomorrow. 

On top of that, I've got a fair amount of pre-ArmadilloCon work on my plate.  Part of that is the administrative side of the Writers' Workshop, part is the actual workshopping work for my group, and part is doing additional research and reading to prepare for some of the panels I'm on.

As part of that research, I've been revisiting Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel and Collapse, two books that have strongly shaped my ideas of worldbuilding.  I've also been thinking about the Columbian Exchange, and how that could be applied to worldbuilding.  I'll be posting more on that in the near future.  And that ties into geography, first and foremost, shaping the worlds we build.

And with geography, there's maps.  I've been re-working the maps to appear in Thorn of Dentonhill and Murder of Mages so they are of publishable quality.  Which is an excellent way for me to be productive while the back of the brain churns on writing things. 

So, back to work in the word mines.

Thursday, July 10, 2014


I was commissioned to write two one-minute plays.

That requires word economy.

Hint Fiction also required maximum value from each word.

Very different writing muscles from novels, but useful ones to build.

July is a busy month.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Thorn of Dentonhill Available for Pre-order on Amazon

So, I wasn't sure what I was going to write about today.  There's a lot on my plate right now, including finishing edits to Murder of Mages, as well as finalizing other details for that (street map, acknowledgements, cover notes for artist), and on top of that ArmadilloCon and the Writers Workshop is in less that three weeks.

And that's on top of the things I have to do to keep the mortgage paid and the lights on.

But then, I discovered* something pretty amazing that I had to share:

Thorn Of Dentonhill is available for pre-order on Amazon! And it also has a Goodreads page

I'll admit, I completely geeked out when I saw an ISBN number.  Again, it's the little things like that which bring it home: this is a really real thing that is happening.

So that more or less made my week.


*- By "discovered" I mean "ego-surfed and checked my Amazon author page".

Thursday, July 3, 2014

State of the Writer: Halfway through 2014

Is the year already half over?  It feels like it flew by.  And yet I'm also eager for it to be over, since Thorn of Dentonhill is scheduled to be released in February 2015.  Despite everything, there's still something dreamlike and unreal about all this. 

Because this year has been, in many ways, all about anticipation.  I mean, do not get me wrong, I have been working: edits for Thorn, edits for Murder of Mages, and the rough draft of Elements of Aventil, aka Thorn II

And it's rough, but as of today, it's done.  Five months and change, which is the fastest I've turned around a rough draft of a full length novel.  It took a little longer than I had hoped, as I had really wanted to get it done before the end of May.  I just missed end of June.  But still: rough draft done.  Now to let the beta readers suffer go over it.

Which means only one thing: Get started on the rough draft for Murder of Mages II

Because this year-- the year of anticipation-- is also a year of opportunity.  Strike while the iron is hot.

And right now, dear friends and readers, I'm feeling like it's scorching hot.

The rest of the year will involve more writing, and whatever the next steps that are involved between now and publication.  Galley proofs, ARCs, and... whatever else.  I'm beyond excited.

I'll also be at ArmadilloCon.  If you can come-- July 25th to 27th-- I recommend it.  Come say hello.  I don't know if I'll be doing any more cons this year, but I intend to go to several more in 2015.

Because 2015 is going to be a very big year.