World Fantasy Convention!

Well, it’s official; I’ve paid my money and everything. I’m going to this year’s World Fantasy convention, and I’m not at all sure how to prepare. It’s the sort of event I should have been attending for years now, and being able to do stuff like this is a fortunate side-effect of living in North America.

On that subject, aren’t these things supposed to have wacky names that end in ‘con’?

So what is this convention? As far as I can tell, it’s an event where boatloads of writers and publishers and agents and other industry folk gather for three days of… stuff. Elbow-rubbing. Looking for deals. Writers trying to get published, publishers trying to find writers that don’t suck. Panel discussions and whatnot. A few key people who are paid to come and encourage the masses. Others who have come simply for the love of the genre.

If all that sounds pretty vague, it’s because I’ve never been part of one of these things before. It’s an important part of my chosen profession, however, and contacts I make at this thing could turn my career. Or not. Or maybe I’ll make an impression with someone that pays off years from now. You never know.

I do know it pays to be prepared. To have things to hand to publishers and agents that they will love, things that at a glance will tell them that they are just dying to read my novel. “Stop the presses!” they will shout into mobile phones, “we have to rearrange the 2010 catalog!”

Another opportunity I have is to impress people in person in ways that anonymous submissions never can. I can talk to important people and leave them thinking “That guy’s an intelligent, articulate guy with a refreshing vision of the fantasy novel.” This will simultaneously be the easiest and most difficult thing for me to do. Once I get into a conversation with the right people, I’m sure I’ll do well. (I’ve been lying awake at night devising my elevator pitch.) The thing is, I’m really, really bad at getting into those conversations in the first place. I’ve been to other industry conventions and utterly bombed at networking (even at the conference about networks).

So, anyone out there have any suggestions? Both for specifics that I should take with me and for the more general hob-bobbing? Any help will be greatly appreciated!

Programming Note

I’ve put in a new anti-spam layer in the comments. It’s supposed to nip spam in the bud before it even reaches the spam-catcher I already have in place. Almost no spam has been getting through to your eyes, but behind the scenes the comments have been building up, and this should simplify administration of the site. In addition the new spam layer helps prevent robots from scraping email addresses off the site and other antisocial behavior (not that I will depend on that stuff). The name of the Plugin is “Bad Behavior”, for those who might want to try it out.

The system uses a variety of techniques that are supposed to be completely invisible to you, but please let me know if you have any trouble leaving comments. My email address is addy

Lite Brite

Last night as my sweetie and I were sharing a big salad and watching TV, she turned to me and said, “We should do Lite Brite!” I readily agreed. I had never seen an actual Lite Brite in action.

You remember Lite Brite, don’t you? It is a backlit frame into which you can stick translucent plastic pegs. The colored pegs glow merrily. Lite Brite! You can paint with light! the jingle went (approximately).

I had given the Lite Brite a lot of thought back when I was roughly four years old, and occasionally thereafter. I only remember little bits and pieces of the kids’ program Captain Kangaroo, but I remember the Lite Brite ads that supported the good Captain and his loyal sidekick, Mr. Greenjeans. I remember the ads very well, because it was one of the earliest engineering challenges I ever tackled. How the heck did the dang thing WORK?

Lite Brite Masterpiece: Ducks

Lite Brite Masterpiece: Ducks

In the ads, the pegs are pushed into a black surface and light up. Sweet! obviously there is something backlit and when a peg is pushed in it glows. At first I tried to come up with a system where pegs could be placed anywhere, and stay in place. And then came the real engineering challenge: making the holes close back up when the peg was removed. This last feature was obvious—otherwise the toy would not be reusable, and the smallest mistake meant you ruined everything.

After more careful observation, I saw that the pegs were always in a grid pattern on the board. So, I realized, there was a grid of holes that the pegs could be punched into. With that knowledge, I imagined a system with little spring-loaded doors for each hole. Push the peg in, the flap opens and light comes through. Pull it out, and the flap closes. I watched the ads closely for any sign of the doors. There was none. The black surface seemed completely uniform. Perplexing. Over the years I mentally fiddled with different designs for the Lite Brite doors that would not be prone to light leaks.

Fast-forward forty years, when I came to live with someone who owns an honest-to-God Lite Brite. At last the Engineering mystery would be resolved.

The answer: black paper. No doors, no flaps, no self-repairing gelatinous layers. You mount opaque paper over the grid and punch holes in it with the pegs. There is no undo. The black papers that come with the LIte Brite have little letters printed on them, for color-by-numbers fun. And really, can you imagine how long the delicate little mechanisms I had been imagining since my very first days of TV watching would have lasted? In my gut I knew that there had to be a simpler answer, but I never let go of my assumption that you could take the pegs back out again.

We sat on the floor, my sweetie and I, taking turns punching in the little pegs (I had trouble differentiating the pink and orange ones before punching them in), and had a good ol’ time. When we were done we kept the Lite Brite plugged in to bask in the glory of our masterpiece. And it was good.


The God of Small Things

I picked up The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy off the shelf at a thrift store. “Winner of the Booker Prize,” The cover said in tastefully-restrained block capitals. Winning a major literary award is often a good sign but not always. Sometimes I think an Emporer’s New Clothes Effect takes hold and the judges are ashamed to admit that the opaque prose left them baffled, so they give a prize to a mixed-up jumble of words. Not so in this case. This was a good story written with a clear if creative voice.

Near the beginning of the book (but not the beginning of the story) we are at the funeral of Little Sophie Mol, Loved from the Beginning. Something has happened, something Horrible, but even though it is only days past it has become Something No One Talks About. When Ammu, mother of two-egg twins, goes to the police station and says, “I killed him,” even the police do not want to talk about what happened anymore.

The language the author uses is playful, coining words and bending others to reflect the Indian ears that hear them. The language provides rays of light even when things are dark. In a way the whole book is a Muddled Ramble, a story that builds not through time but through the growth of the words themselves.

The story moves about in time, simultaneously tip-toeing up to the Horrible Events and drifting away through the aftermath. Before, we pass through the trip by the family to pick up Sophie Mol at the airport (cousin of the two-egg twins, Loved from the Beginning) and the events of that trip that set in motion the final run to the Horrible Events. After, we see a home with no life in it, the occupants slowly decaying or leaving, slowly dying. The family business long dead, the Bar Nowl that lived in the rafters of the pickle factory now just a pile of bones in an unused vat. Even the river, once powerful, is dead and sluggish. All that’s left is a pair of two-egg twins, one mute, separated for twenty years.

a) Anything can happen to Anyone.
b) It’s best to be prepared.

What ties all the threads of the narrative together, what really defines the flow of the story, are words. Special words, coined capriciously, that, as the story progresses, take on greater and greater weight, until some of them are almost breaking under the freight they must carry. Later. Lay. Ter. Only when the words are ready can the Horrible Events be told. And after the Horrible Events, there’s only one thing left to tell, one thing that had the power to drive all the rest.

This is the sort of writing that is both humbling and motivating, the sort of story I aspire to write—if I had the courage to really let go. Read this book; you won’t be sorry.

Note: if you use the above link to buy this book (or a Kindle, or a new car), I get a kickback.

A Perfect Match?

I am complimented on my dialog now and then, and that makes me feel good. However, I am constantly reminding myself to be more descriptive of the surroundings. Often I’ll put characters in an off-the-shelf setting and let the reader fill in the details. Lazy, and plenty of missed opportunities. (“Furniture”, on the other hand, is all about the settings. One of the reasons I like it so much.)

Yesterday I spent some time looking for writing contests with minimal or no reading fees which may fit things I’ve already written. There are a lot of writing contests out there, but almost all of them smell much more literary than most of the stories I’ve written. (Maybe this makes up for the relative scarcity of markets that consistently pay good rates for the literary genre.)

While I was poking around I found this contest, which in part reads:

The Rules: Compose a short story entirely of dialogue. You may use as many characters as you want. Your entry must be under 3000 words. Your entry does not have to follow standard rules for writing dialogue. Your entry cannot use any narration (this includes tag lines such as he said, she said, etc.). These are the only rules. Manipulate them however you see fit.

Interesting! While I don’t have a story that fits that (and in fact I just went back and added a great deal of descriptive text to a story that had some nearly all-dialog scenes), this seems like a contest that might play to my strengths. Like I have the bandwidth to take on another story right now…

A Typical Night at Home

My sweetie and I kicking back after a hard day's work

My sweetie and me, kicking back after a hard day's work

There’s nothing like putting one’s feet up after a long day counting your gold and precious gems.


Proof my Sweetie Loves Me

“How’s the writing going?” People often ask me. “Not bad,” I answer, “but the selling isn’t going so well.” The problem is that I would much rather spend time writing a new story than trying to get someone to pay for a story I’ve already written. What I needed, I decided, was a way to keep track of where each story had been submitted and where next it should go. I had a partial implementation of that in place, but I thought maybe if there was something available at a glance right up there on the wall I’d do a better job keeping up.

Lo and behold! A precise measure of my slacking.

Lo and behold! A precise measure of my slacking.

Meanwhile, I’m working on a story that starts out with several separate threads that converge. Getting the timing right between the different bits has been a challenge, even with software that lets me rearrange bits easily. I thought to do color-coded post-its that I could rearrange, but first I needed to go out and buy the damn sticky notes. My sweetie was also dubious about the glue marks the sticky notes would leave all over the walls. She suggested a bulletin board.

Naturally I did nothing about these ideas, but last week I went to a friend’s house to mix beer and heavy machinery. When I got back the wall over my desk was adorned with two new features, already mounted on the wall and awaiting my pleasure. What a great surprise! The bulletin board is closer to my desk, as is fitting for its more interactive purpose while I write, while I only have to glance up and to my left to see how I’m progressing with submissions for my current short stories.

Act One of Dark War. This will get a lot messier.

Act One of Dark War. This will get a lot messier.

As far as the whiteboard goes, the stories listed cover everything from humorous flash horror to non-fiction, but most of the stories will fit at several of the markets listed across the top. Red X’s are rejections. Blue boxes are the markets to submit a story to next. Green dates indicate when I should hear back about a submitted story. As you can see, at this time only two of the eight stories are out there being read, with another awaiting a trip to the post office and another waiting for the reading period at the magazine. That’s two and two halves more than a week ago, so I have to say the system is succeeding so far.

On the bulletin board I have act one of Dark War. The threads are color-coded, and scenes that involve two threads are taped together with the significance to each thread spelled out separately. I will be finishing Dark War up as quickly as possible so I can spend the rest of the time before the World Fantasy Convention getting ready to sell The Monster Within. In the next day or two I’ll be compressing Act One up at the top of the board to make room for Act 2. Considering I’ve already written this damn thing twice, there sure is a lot of work to do.

But however much work there is to do, I have someone at my back who knows the best way to spur me on to greatness is to help me get the tools together to do my job well. That means a lot to me.